California has some of the strictest weapons laws in the nation. While people often ask “are switchblades legal in California?” The answer is no, but California knife laws are notably complex, especially the parts that cover switchblade knives, to the point where sometimes those charged with the crime weren’t actually in possession of a switchblade. That is why you should always speak with a weapons lawyer as soon as you have been charged with a crime like this.
California Switchblade Laws
Under the California Penal Code section 21510 PC, the definition of a switchblade is a device that has the appearance of a pocketknife with a blade two or more inches in length that can be automatically opened by a button, pressure on the handle, a wrist flip or another mechanism. The New York state penal code and other people and laws call these “gravity knives” because gravity helps open the blades with only a flick of the wrist.
Whatever you call them, the bottom line is that the state’s switchblade knife law bans not just the spring-loaded knives most people think of when they imagine a switchblade, but also butterfly knives or other designs that are intended to open with a flick of the wrist.
Defining a Switchblade Under California Law
While some knives obviously fit into these descriptions without question, the law states that knives that are opened with a thumb stud on the blade or thumb pressure applied to the blade do not qualify as switchblades as long as they have some type of mechanism that provides resistance in opening the blade or that biases the blade to return to its closed position. This means that if you have a particularly well-worn pocket knife that opens at a flick of a hand, if it was designed to be opened with a thumb stud or by applying pressure on the blade, it is not technically a switchblade.
Sometimes people are wrongly accused of possessing a switchblade because their pocket knife opens so easily. If your lawyer can show that the knife is simply loose, but not designed to operate in such a way, you may be able to have the charges dropped before they go to court.
You Can Legally Own a Switchblade at Home
It is also important to know that it is only illegal to possess a switchblade knife in the passenger or driver’s area of a vehicle, to carry the knife on you, and to sell, offer to sell, loan, or give the knife to someone else. This means that while switchblades are generally illegal, if you already are in possession of one, you can legally continue to own it as long as you keep it in your house and while moving, you store it in a box and pack it in the trunk of your car or bed of a truck.
Knowledge of the Weapon Matters
You also must know that the knife you are carrying is considered a switchblade. While it would be difficult to claim that you didn’t know a push-button knife in your pocket is a switchblade, you may be able to defend you against the charges if you borrowed a jacket or purse from a friend that had the weapon inside of it and you were unaware of the item being in your pocket. Alternatively, if you purchase a knife from a reputable dealer and believe it is merely a typical folding knife, but it turns out to qualify as a switchblade, you haven’t actually violated the law.
Penalty for Carrying a Switchblade
If you are convicted of carrying a prohibited knife, you can face misdemeanor criminal charges. These are punishable by probation, a fine of $1,000, and/or up to six months in jail. If you knowingly carried a switchblade in a concealed manner though, you could be charged with carrying a concealed dirk or dagger, which is a felony and carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.
Have you been arrested for possession of a switchblade? Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Creative Commons Image by Greg Younger