New York law making it illegal for groups of individuals to wear masks in public has been repealed

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NEW YORK (WWTI) – N.Y. Penal Law 240.35(4), a statute which makes it a criminal violation for groups of individuals to wear masks in public, has been repealed.

The law was nearly two centuries old and criminal violation of the law was subject to a possible 15 day sentence of imprisonment.

Attorney General James sent a letter to Governor Cuomo and legislative leadership on May 11, pointing out the conflict of law and urging that this specific provision of the penal code be suspended or repealed.

“Wearing masks in public remains necessary for the health and safety of New Yorkers. But there was a clear conflict of law, and repealing this outdated provision is commonsense policy,” said Attorney General James. “Even if it is difficult to imagine a police department enforcing, a prosecutor charging, or a judge upholding such a charge during the COVID-19 crisis, we should not tolerate a situation where following the law is dangerous. I thank Senator Bailey and Assemblymember Quart for their leadership and for permanently repealing this law.”

“We are living through an unprecedented health crisis. Governor Cuomo issued an executive order requiring that New Yorkers wear face masks while in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but this mandate conflicts with an outdated penal law provision banning the use of such masks,” said Senator Jamaal Bailey. “I am proud to announce that during this session, we have taken steps to remedy this problem by passing legislation expressly repealing that part of the existing statute, which makes it illegal to wear face masks in public. No one should face increased scrutiny and potential criminal liability solely due to a conflict in the law. I would like to thank Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Attorney General Letitia James for ensuring the passage of this bill.”

“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Assemblymember Dan Quart. “Not only is the continued criminalization of face coverings confusing for all New Yorkers, it exposes men of color to police harassment. If we are to stop the spread of COVID-19, we must ensure that everyone feels safe wearing a mask in public, without the threat of arrest, prosecution, or worse.”

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