Carrying a Knife in these Troubled Times

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Carrying a Knife in these Troubled Times

Postby Alan K » Tue Jul 09, 2002 5:06 am

Since 9/11, there have been severe restrictions enacted concerning the apple pie right of American men (or women) to carry their favorite pocket knife.

For security reasons, even the most common types of knives may be banned from commercial airline flights or public events.

The test is simple and not so simple.

The test is whether or not the device is basically a tool or a knife.

We have all seen the multi-tool made by many manufacturers which have the head and handles of a pair of pliers, and has screw drivers, can openers, small blade knives and a host of other devices folded into the handles.

This appears to be a multi-tool. We also have versions of the famed Swiss Army knife, which is called a "Knife",which has large and small blades and many of the same tools as in the plier type of knife.

I suppose that at this time, the event authority can screen for whatever they deem in their subjective test meets the accepted or prohibited device.

I have been asked by a number of MA's who want merely to carry a pocket knife and know that it is not a "per se" dangerous weapon, what the standard is. In Massachusetts, the definition of dangerous weapons and knives is set forth in General Laws Chapter 269 Section 10b.

One MA told me that a police officer told him his pocket folder as a dangerous weapon.
In my opinon this was a common jack knife with a drip point and single edge and did have a back lock. This PO never read the statute or any case law.

I am going to incorporate a former post from this forum which, if read carefully, will cover enough to bring you up to date on the current status of the Mass. Weapons Staute.

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, 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 that 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 Collectibles (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 purpose 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.

Alan K

I promised to report on a case where a woman was convicted of carrying a steak knife with an eight inch serrated blade in her pocket book, and the single judge court found enough evidence to warrant her conviction of our now famous c. 269 section 10(b) dangerous weapon statute.

When I saw a synopsis report of this I was more than curious because this case was heard before Judge Kass (and two others) in the SJC. Judge Kass was also one of the judges in the Com. v. Miller case that I presented here in its complete form..

The case is Commonwealth v. Alice Thompson.

Alice was arrested by police on two outstanding default warrants. The arrest did not meet with resistance, and the office found in defendant’s pocketbook a steak knife which had an eight inch serrated blade

She was tried and convicted before a superior court judge for the above cited dangerous weapons statute violation. The Court held: The evidence that the knife had a serrated blade eight inches long, when taken together with the evidence of where the knife was found and the defendant’s statement to the officer that she carried it for her protection, was sufficient to warrant findings that the knife was “dangerous” within the meaning of Section 10(b), and that the defendant knew it to be such. (cases cited)….we reject the defendant’s narrow interpretation of the phrase “warrant for an alleged crime” which is found in section 10(b). The public policy which discourages the carrying of dangerous weapons which can be used against arresting officers…is at least as strong when an arrest is made on default warrant. (and a lot of cases cited)

IMHO, it looks as though a person carrying a knife, which is not per se a dangerous weapon, can make it a dangerous weapon if the carrier is using it to “protect” their person, the gist being that if it is used as a weapon for defense or offense it becomes a weapon, as opposed to our MA readers who use them only for sport, meals or collectors items, and for display, trade, or club activity. A word to the wise?

But poor Alice did not go to jail and the same court granted her a new trial. I don’t know what happened there.

The courts have held, and I will report more on this, that the inclusion of the items set forth in the above “dangerous” weapons statute are not all inclusive. Depending on the circumstances, any thing employed as a weapon can be classified as a dangerous weapon depending on how utilized.

Kick a guy lying down on the ground, you better use your dojo etiquette and take off your shoes or you will be charged with “assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, to wit: a shod foot”.

More about that in another post. Like it or not, we cannot, because of public policy, carry any implement or blade with the sole purpose of self defense. You admit by implication that you could use it as a weapon, albeit for self-defense.

In the “dirk” case, we read about weapons and their configuration which makes them stabbers with the sole use of striking humans. I see constant concern about blade length in these forums, where in Massachusetts and probably many other states, the intended use of knives can be discerned from their structure and the intention of the carrier.

We try to resolve the dilemma and uncertainties created when we read the statutes and decisions but a lot remains unanswered.

Here is the headnote from an SJC case and that will be followed by the more interesting facts obtained by reading the whole case:

Defendant who had small kitchen bread knife with approximately an eight inch blade in her handbag when arrested as a disorderly person could not be convicted of carrying on her person a dangerous weapon where the officer had no warrant for her arrest and there was no contention at the time of her arrest defendant was committing a breach or disturbance of the public peace and defendant could not have been prosecuted for carrying the knife on her person for innocent purpose. Com. v. Blavackas (1981 case) 419 Ne2d 856.

Now for the rest of the story:

Linda was being watched by two PO’s (Worcester Police) in unmarked cruisers. They observed her stopping cars driven by males and when she finally got into a car with one they followed and observed. They observed her and the male on the lawn behind a building and arrested her when the witnessed her taking down the pants of the male.

They arrested her for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. Did I spell that word in italics correctly? In any event they searched her pocketbook, which was noted to be large enough to contain 6 grapefruits, and found drug paraphernalia and a knife which appeared to be a common kitchen bread knife with a blade of about 8 inches.

The court held that she could not be convicted of a breach of peace where it was not observed by the officers and her tryst was silent. She was never charged with being a common street walker or for prostitution.

The Court held that the other charges, even if made, were not consistent with disturbing the public peace.

The Court also decided that since the knife was in her handbag and not on her person, and she had not expressed any statement which would be inconsistent with carrying the knife for innocent purposes , then she could not be convicted of violation of MGL c. 269 section (10b).

The Court did state, that if she had the knife on her person or in a vehicle within her control, the Court would have decided differently.

Is the lesson learned, “Ladies carry a large pocketbook and do your thing in silence?”

The above was written prior to 9/11. You can be prohibited from carrying any knife in a state or federal building and on airliners and public event. But this is not the same thing as carrying a dangerous weapon which is so "per se" or that you declare to be dangerous by asserting it is used by you for self-defense. Absurd, but true.

Alan K

"The Goddess of Justice is Blind"
Alan K
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Joined: Mon Nov 20, 2000 6:01 am
Location: Framingham, MA USA

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