Criminal Law Update: Weapons Possession Law Impermissibly Discriminated Against Non-Citizens

In People v. Bounasri, the  defendant, a citizen of Tunisia who was a lawful permanent resident of the United States, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree under a provision of New York Penal Law that criminalized only a non-United States citizen’s possession of a dangerous instrument or weapon.  The defendant sought dismissal of the charge, arguing that the statute discriminated against him as a non-citizen in violation of his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.   The Court held that the New York Penal Law prohibiting only a non-United States citizen’s possession of a dangerous or deadly weapon, Penal Law 265.01(5), was not justified by any state interest, let alone a compelling state interest, and so impermissibly discriminated against non-citizens in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. There was no conceivable reason that aliens should be distinguished from citizens to achieve the law’s otherwise legitimate public safety objectives. Read the Court’s Opinion