The New York Court of Appeals upheld a New York City law Monday that banned chokehold restraints, thereby rejecting a police union challenge that called the law unconstitutional.
Section 10-181 of the New York City Administrative Code was passed by the New York City Council in 2020 as a response to the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner while being restrained in police custody. The Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York along with 16 other law enforcement unions challenged the law as a violation of constitutional due process on grounds of vagueness, while also claiming that the legislation was preempted by a similar state law. The unions scored a victory at the trial level which found the law to be overly vague before an appeals court overturned the decision. The latest ruling affirms the appeals court reversal and leaves the citywide ban intact.
Section 10-181 makes it a misdemeanor for any person to:
restrain an individual in a manner that restricts the flow of air or blood by compressing the windpipe or the carotid arteries on each side of the neck, or the sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm, in the course of effecting or attempting to effect an arrest.
Police unions contended that the language was too vague for officers to enforce since it could be difficult to determine when “sitting, kneeling, or standing” actually “compresses the diaphragm.” They cited affidavits from officers and a medical professional in support of their argument. In response, the City of New York presented evidence that the New York City Police Department had warned officers against applying “pressure on an arrestee’s torso,” showing that the law was capable of being understood.
The court dismissed the preemption claim and held that the language was “sufficiently definite” and that an “ordinary person” could understand that the law forbids actions that would “impede [a] person’s ability to breath.” The court also found that as a result the law provided officials with “clear guidelines for enforcement” and was therefore constitutional.
New York City Council spokesperson Rendy Desamours praised the finality of the judgment and expressed confidence that the ruling would continue to ensure public safety.