In California, Court Is Deciding if Swiss Army Knives Are Illegal


Law Shield would like to inform our members of a substantial pending court decision in California that could affect the ability to “bear arms” — but not necessarily guns — in the state.

The Knife Rights Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging safe and responsible use of knives and edged tools, recently filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the California Supreme Court in the criminal matter of State of California v. Emmanuel Castillolopez. The brief asks the court not to consider common, non-locking Swiss Army Knives and similar pocketknives as illegal “dirks” or “daggers.”

Seems Mr. Castillolopez was convicted in 2012 by a San Diego County jury for illegally carrying a concealed dirk or dagger after law enforcement found a Swiss Army Knife with the blade open in his pocket following a traffic stop. The Fourth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal later overturned his conviction, holding that Castillolopez’ pocketknife didn’t meet the statutory definition of an illegally-carried dirk or dagger because it didn’t have a locking mechanism.

The case stems from a dispute over section 16470 of the California Penal Code, which defines a dirk or dagger as “a knife or other instrument….that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death.” But, for everyday pocketknives like the one at issue in Castillolopez, the definition applies only “if the blade of the knife is exposed and locked into position.”

George M. Lee, a partner at the San Francisco law firm of Seiler Epstein Ziegler & Applegate, wrote the “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the Knife Rights Foundation and Second Amendment Foundation.

“For simply having a common, everyday Swiss Army multi-tool with the blade open in his pocket, Mr. Castillolopez was charged, prosecuted, and convicted of a very serious crime,” explained Lee. “We strongly believe that the Court of Appeal correctly held that the State’s arguments are wrong on the law and hope the Supreme Court similarly disposes of the matter in its forthcoming decision.”

Doug Ritter, founder and chairman of the Knife Rights Foundation, said that, “Ultimately, our important brief is about protecting knife owners from prosecutorial overreach by maintaining the historical definition of a ‘dirk’ or ‘dagger’ in California. If the state wins this case with their expansive theory on how a ‘dirk’ or ‘dagger’ is defined, every Boy Scout and slipjoint folding knife owner in California might one day be guilty of a felony.”

If you’re inclined to read about this matter further, the opening brief from California Attorney General Kamala Harris can be viewed here. The Appellant’s answer brief can be viewed here. The state’s reply brief can be viewed here.

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