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California law on brass knuckles (metal knuckles and composite knuckles) – Orange County Criminal Defense

by admin on June 29, 2010

Brass knuckles in California – are they legal?  What if they’re not made out of metal?

I’ve been asked by a few people if “brass knuckles” are illegal, even if they’re not made of metal.

There used to be a loophole in the law, but it’s now closed.

“Brass knuckles” (truly called “metal knuckles” in California law – see Penal Code section 12020) are illegal. It’s a potential felony to possess metal knuckles. The definition is:

” . . .any device or instrument made wholly or partially of metal which is worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand and which either protects the wearer’s hand while striking a blow or increases the force of impact from the blow or injury to the individual receiving the blow. The metal contained in the device may help support the hand or fist, provide a shield to protect it, or consist of projections or studs which would contact the individual receiving a blow.”

For that section, the device had to be made wholly or partly of metal, but composites materials, such as resins, hard plastics or wood were excluded. Penal Code section 12020 is a “wobbler” – it can be either a felony or a misdemeanor.

But now there’s a code section that also covers composite knuckles: Penal Code section 12020.1:

Any person in this state who possesses, commercially manufactures or causes to be commercially manufactured, or who knowingly imports into the state for commercial sale, keeps for commercial sale, or offers or exposes for commercial sale, any composite knuckles or hard wooden knuckles is guilty of a misdemeanor. As used in this section, “composite knuckles” means any device or instrument made wholly or partially of composite materials, other than a medically prescribed prosthetic, that is not a metal knuckle as defined in paragraph (7) of subdivision (c) of Section 12020, that is worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand, and that either protects the wearer’s hand while striking a blow or increases the force of impact from the blow or injury to the individual receiving the blow. As used in this section, “hard wooden knuckles” means any device or instrument made wholly or partially of wood or paper products that is not a metal knuckle as defined in paragraph (7) of subdivision (c) of Section 12020, that is worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand, and that either protects the wearer’s hand while striking a blow, or increases the force of impact from the blow or injury to the individual receiving the blow. The composite materials, wood, or paper products contained in the device may help support the hand or fist, provide a shield to protect it, or consist of projections or studs that would contact the individual receiving a blow.

The good news is that it’s a misdemeanor. The bad news is that it’s a misdemeanor and a criminal offense that carries potential jail time, probation, fines and will be on your record indefinitely if you’re convicted.

Even if something is widely available (i.e. on the internet or at the swap meet) doesn’t change the definition under the law.  “Widely available” doesn’t always equate to legal.

Most companies that sell things that are banned in California (such as knives that are illegal here) will put a disclaimer on their website that they can’t be sold in California, etc., but not all do.

Be careful.  Keep in mind that an arrest or charges filed isn’t necessarily the end of the story.  There can be search issues, Miranda violations or other legal and factual defenses available to you that can only be discovered after a thorough review of the facts.

Orange County Defense Attorney – Joe Dane

(714) 532-3600

info@joedane.com

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