One of the first prosecutions under the New York SAFE Act was resolved quietly in Moreau Town Court on Thursday, with a plea agreement that dropped charges stemming from the new law.
William Greene, 51, of South Glens Falls, was charged in April with two misdemeanor violations of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, accused of selling an assault-style rifle to an undercover state trooper without a background check. Following an agreement with the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office, he pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a class A misdemeanor, which will result in no jail time or probation. He’ll still be able to own and operate guns.
The deal was reached after investigation of the gun, an RGuns .223/5.56 caliber rifle with a pistol grip, revealed the weapon was technically an assault weapon, which can’t be owned in the state and could have led to felony charges being tacked on for Greene.
Greene’s lawyer, Gregory Canale said that following this revelation, “[The District Attorney’s Office] made a very favorable plea bargain.”
Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy said in a news release that his office weighed the facts of the case and used its prosecutorial discretion in declining to prosecute the SAFE Act charges, while still securing a conviction on a comparable and more established charge.
After the plea was accepted, Greene said he was relieved to finish this chapter in his life.
Because of the SAFE Act, he said it was highly unlikely he would try to sell a gun in New York again, despite still facing the same economic hardships that prompted him to try to sell the gun that got him in trouble. Greene reiterated his contention the SAFE Act is not comprehensible to ordinary gun owners, saying Thursday that only a lawyer could tell what practices are still legal under the law.
Canale added that gun owners around the state could also be guilty of owning an assault weapon without even knowing it, like in this case, where Greene and law enforcement didn’t initially realize the gun was technically an assault weapon.
“If you are in possession of an automatic weapon with a threaded barrel that is capable of accepting a muzzle flasher, you’re in possession of an assault weapon, which [is a felony],” he said. “There are probably thousands of state citizens who are in possession of these weapons and don’t even know they’re committing a felony.”
Greene will have to pay a fine as part of the plea agreement, but he will still be able to own a gun. He said he still owns guns and still plans on using them for hunting.
Last month, there was some indication Greene’s case might be used to test the validity of the SAFE Act, as Canale was prepared to challenge the constitutionality of the law. If the validity of the law was questioned, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman would have had to defend the law. He has repeatedly stressed his belief in its constitutionality.