Anthony Sculimbrene, Esq.
In re: Luke W
88 Cal. App. 4th 650
A credit card multi-tool knife is not a concealed dagger or dirk knife in California.
In this case the juvenile, who was already on juvenile probation, was stopped by a police officer four months into his probationary period. When the officer stopped and approached him, he asked the juvenile if he had any illegal substances or items on him. The juvenile said no. The officer pat frisked him anyway and discovered a small credit card tool in the juvenile’s pocket. The officer pulled on one of the grooves and a knife “popped” out. The officer and the juvenile had a discussion about the knife. The officer contends that the juvenile told him it was for self-defense. The juvenile contends that the officer asked if it was for self-defense and he agreed it could be used for that.
The knife itself was a typical poly carbonate bodied credit-card tool with many of the implements typically found on a Swiss Army knife, including a pair of tweezers and a bottle opener. One of the tools, one that slid out when the officer gripped the right set of grooves, was a small knife that resembled a push knife. The officer claimed that this knife was a dagger. Because of the knife’s appearance and the fact it was hidden in a pocket, the State claimed that the knife was a dagger within the definition of California’s concealed carry law which banned the carrying of daggers and dirk knives in a concealed manner. At the trial level, the court bought the State’s argument.
On appeal, the court genuinely struggled with both the law and the object in question. It wasn’t a classic “concealed” knife, but it was also clearly a fixed blade once pulled from the credit card sheet. In fact, the court felt that the object was closer to a “pocketknife” (which was exempt from the law), than a dirk knife or dagger. To support this argument the court did a lengthy analysis of the statute and its history of amendments. In the end the court concluded that the legislative history of the statute was sufficiently clear that the concealed carry ban was designed to inhibit the quick use of deadly stabbing tools. This knife, because it required multiple steps to deploy, fell outside the definition of dirk knife and dagger and thus was not illegal to carry.
Tips for Knife Owners
California courts have struggled with the definitions in the dirk knife and dagger law for a very long time, as both this case’s legislative history indicates and the cases that have come since show. It is very hard to tell from the outside what the police will consider a dirk knife or dagger and what will be viewed as something else. The clearest and safest blade is probably something like a classic pocket knife, a traditional knife without a lock would be the furthest thing from the statute.
- Point 1: Pocketknives are the safest kind of knife to carry in California, with a non-locking blade being the most safe.
Tips for Attorneys
While the case is something of a morass for owners, it does give lawyers a lot of guidance under the confusing and constantly changing California law. In the end, the court’s holding, that the essence of the law is a ban on easy to access concealed knives, can be used to provide good legal cover for lots of situations that don’t squarely fall into the statute’s two neat categories of banned knives or pocketknives. This case also provides a good example of how mining legislative intent can help knife cases a great deal. The bans and restrictions almost always turn on terms that don’t usually have a clear meaning, despite being everyday objects. Finally, though not an issue here because the juvenile was a probationer, if he had not had diminished constitutional protections, the search here could have easily been challenged as illegal.
- Point 1: The essence of the California ban focuses on quick to use and deadly knives
- Point 2: If the statute does not define a term exactly, be prepared to mine the legislative history for helpful arguments.
- Point 3: Remember that probationers have a reduced status in terms of privacy rights.