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CURIOUS | Unexpected New York Laws

CURIOUS | Unexpected New York Laws

By Joan Fucillo

Joan Fucillo works in communications at the New York State Bar Association.

Among all its many laws, New York has some that can surprise, if not bewilder, its inhabitants, though good reason might exist for them.


New York State’s anti-mask law – no, you can still have Halloween – came about from a tenant farmer uprising in the 1840s, where masked farmers battled law enforcement officers trying to evict them from their land. The law stated that a single masked person could be charged with vagrancy and jailed for six months; a group of three or more could serve a year in jail. This law was used in 1999 to deny the American Knights, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan, a permit to march in New York City, precipitating a five-year battle over First Amendment rights, and as grounds to arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks. For the obsessively curious, check out NY Penal Law section 240.35(4); U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, No. 02-9418 (Jan. 20, 2004).


Yes, laws. Surprisingly, New York State has quite a bit of legislation regarding ferrets. Only cats, dogs, and ferrets may be considered feral — the rest are on their own as far as viciousness or virulence. Then there is the ban against using ferrets in hunting — specifically hunting ‘varying hares’ or snowshoe rabbits. (The hunting technique involves putting a ferret down a rabbit hole to chase the rabbit out into a net covering the hole.) But ferrets’ other uses — seeing-eye, emotional support — are safe. NY Public Health Law section 2140(13) and NY Environmental Conservation Law section 11-0901(5)(a).


In New York City, if you find money or property valued at $10 or more, you have 10 days to turn it in at a police station house. If the money or property is unclaimed for three months, it’s yours. (Make sure to have the bill serial numbers.) Not turning it in — that’s a fine of $1,000, a year in prison, or both. NYC Administrative Code section 10-106.


Likewise, in New York City, you cannot hold a puppet show (or a ballet or a comedy or a farce or any show with moving figures) in the window or other open space of your house or building, for exhibition to the public on the street or sidewalk. Consequences include a fine of $25, 30 days in jail, or both. NYC Administrative Code section 10-114(b). How are all those aspiring Muppets supposed to get their start?

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