Other forums may want to copy this where the interest is in knives and edged weapons.
My friends it is time to report a case that is of interest for a vast amount of our forum readers, especially those who use, cherish and collect knives.
Knives were included in a specific statute, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which enhanced a previous statute which went into effect in 1906. Up dates occurred through the years and in 1957, the Legislature broadened the old statute (the old one prohibited daggers, stilletos, or dirk-knives. Included in the list of dangerous per se knives was Chapter 269 Section (10) (b) “any knife having a double edged blade, or a switch knife, or any knife having an automatic spring release devise by which the blade is released from the handle, having a blade length of over one and one half inches, (this revision was acts of 1957 Chapter 688 section 23, which is C. 269, Section 10 (b) of the General Laws.
I will jump the gun on this report and say specifically that what the Legislature did, was not limit knives to a blade length of one and one half inches for all knives, but as shown in the parenthetical expression in the above statutory quote, was limited to “any knife having an automatic spring release devise by which the blade is released from the handle, having a blade length of over one and one half inches”
There is an excellent case in Massachusetts decided September 8, 1986, which addresses several aspects of the statute and is important for IMHO, what care the Court took to enlighten us with its thinking. This was a Supreme Judicial Court case (SJC) and is Commonwealth v. Stephen Miller and is cited as 497 N.E. 2d 29.
“The defendant was convicted of carrying a dangerous weapon prohibited by G.G. c. 289 Section (10(b), as amended , to wit: a “dirk knife”. On appeal he claims that his motion for a required finding of not guilty was improperly denied and that the jury instructions regarding the definition of a dirk knife were erroneous . We reverse the conviction.
The statute does not define the term “dirk knife”. As is the usual practice in interpreting criminal statutes, we construe the term strictly. (Court here cites Crosscup case which held that ambiguity concerning the ambit of criminal statutes should be resolved in favor of lenity) Com. v. Lupo (same result) A dirk is a long straight-bladed dagger or short sword usually defined by comparison with the ceremonial weapons carried by Scottish Highlanders and naval officers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. (quotes Webster dictionary. A Dirk Knife is a clasp knife or large pocket knife, having a large blade like that of a dirk. It is apparent thaat the trial judge denied the defendant’s motion for a required finding of not guilty, and later instructed the jury on the basis of that definition.
The Webster definition is wanting in blade-related details. It is therefore, an insufficient basis in itself for any determination of whether the defendant’s knife has a blade like a dirk. Other sources, however, allow a comparison of the blade on the defendant’s knife with the characteristic features of both the Highland and the naval dirk. See, e.g. Military Collectables (O’Neill ed. 1983) and Weapons (St. Martins Press 1980) which provide illustrations and detailed descriptions of these dirks and show tapered blades ranging in length from 7.9 to 11.9 inches and in width from one to one and one half inches. Such knives were designed and are useful almost exclusively for stabbing. To facilitate this pur0ose the blade is usually double edged and symmetrical.
Defining a dirk knife in these terms is consistent wit the purpose of GL 269 z(10b). The purpose is to outlaw the carrying of those knives which are primarily designed for stabbing human being or for other unlawful objectives. The purpose is apparent from the types of knives, switch blade, double edged, stilletto, and dagger-prohibited by this statute and is characteristic of statutes prohibiting the carrying of dangerous weapons See and compare cases from other jurisdictions which consider analogous per se statutes People v. Brown 277 N.W. 2d 155 (weapons generally considered dangerous per se are designed for the purpose of bodily assault. (cites case where pocket knife not customarily used as dangerous weapon Louisiana case cited which says pocket knife not transformed into dagger by locking mechanism (State v. Pruett)
Such statutes recognize that while most knives can be used to inflict serious bodily harm, many knives are commonly used in innocent and useful ways which bear no relation to their use as weapons.
The defendant’s knife is a heavy , oversized version of a folding pocket knife or jack-knife. Pursuant to a lawful search, conducted for reasons not relevant here, the knife was discovered in the defendant’s pocket, in the closed position. With the blade folded into the handle, , the knife is 6 ½ inches long by 1 ½ inches wide. In contrast to other quick release knives enumerated in the statute, it does not open quickly or easily. Once opened, and locked rigidly in position, it looks like a dagger. Unquestionably if it had been discovered open, in the defendant’s hand or in his pocket, it could have been deemed to be a dangerous weapon. (California case cited where blade found open in defendant’s pocket. the blade was tapered to a sharp point. Texas case cited (knife in defendant’s pocket in the locked open position, and was judged to be a dagger.
The defendant’s blade is five inches by one and one half inches, single edged and asymmetrical.
It certainly can cut and is a formidable and menacing weapon when opened , but is neither tapered nor readily adaptable (from it folded form) for use as a stabbing weapon. (see Rivens v. State 1938 Texas case (similarly shaped blade in scabbard not a dirk) It is not long enough to fit the usual definition of a dirk-like blade. We hold that this blade does not share enough of the characteristics of a stabbing weapon to be a “dirk knife” within the ambit of GL c. 269, section 10(b).
In holding this, we note that this is a close case. It is not our intention to delineate exactly what combination of characteristics defines a dirk-like blade, or state that a five inch blade can never be enough like a dirk to be proscribed (in the statute). Other characteristics, as for example, a blade tapering to a sharpened tip, man indicate that the knife in question, though shorter than a normal dirk, was indeed designed for stabbing. Ideally, the Legislature should provide more specific guidelines.
Absent more specific statutory criteria, the defendant’s motion for a required finding of not guilty should have been allowed for lack of showing that the defendant’s knife sufficiently fits the recognized definition of a dirk-knife. Judgement reversed, Verdict set aside Judgment for Defendant.
That was the end of the case reported here almost verbatim.
Please note that the case was defined in light of a dirk-knife. Also note that by citing the statute, if the definition of the one and one half blade length meant any thing other than the automatic ejection blade the Court would have dealt with this.
Don’t take great solace in this case alone. We will report others where a woman carrying a common steak knife was convicted, and I will report that one later.