Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 48 Cal. 4th 23, 223 P.3d 603, 104 Cal. Rptr. 3d 471

In re David V.

Filed 2/8/10

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

In re David V., a Person Coming Under
the Juvenile Court Law.
___________________________________ )
THE PEOPLE,
Plaintiff and Respondent,
S167716
v.
Ct.App. 2/5 B203840
DAVID V.,
Los Angeles County
Defendant and Appellant.
Superior Court No. PJ41304

The juvenile court sustained a petition charging David V. with possession
of metal knuckles. On appeal, David argued that the bicycle footrest found in his
pocket did not come within the statutory definition of “metal knuckles,” and even
if it did there was no proof he possessed it with criminal intent. The Court of
Appeal rejected these arguments, and affirmed. We reverse. A cylindrical object
like the footrest in this case is not a device “worn . . . in or on the hand,” under the
definition of “metal knuckles” provided in Penal Code section 12020, subdivision
(c)(7).
I. BACKGROUND
Around 1:30 on the afternoon of August 21, 2007, a Los Angeles police
officer stopped 14-year-old David for riding his bicycle without a helmet. During
a consensual search the officer recovered a bicycle footrest from David‟s pants
1


pocket. The officer described this item as a hollow cylinder about three and one-
half inches long.1 In his experience with the gang detail, he had learned that such
footrests were commonly used as brass knuckles, held in a closed fist and “used as
an impact punching device.” The officer was unable to find a place where the
footrest would attach to David‟s bicycle, and no other footrest was installed.
A petition was filed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602
charging David with possession of metal knuckles, a violation of Penal Code
section 12020, subdivision (a)(1).2 After a hearing where the arresting officer
testified and the footrest was received in evidence, the court put the matter over so
counsel could submit authority on whether the device met the statutory definition
of “metal knuckles.” At a subsequent hearing, the court decided the footrest
amounted to a metal device “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.” (§ 12020, subd. (c)(7).) The court also determined that David had
carried the device as a weapon. It noted that the footrest did not fit on his bicycle,
was something used to brace the fist for purposes of punching, and was so large
that he would not casually have carried it in his pocket.
In the Court of Appeal, David contended that because the statute requires
metal knuckles to be worn, it applies only to weapons that can be affixed to the
hand. The court disagreed, reasoning that the Legislature would not have used the
term “worn . . . in or on the hand” if it did not mean to include objects that could

1
The footrest actually measures four and one-half inches in length. Its
diameter is a little over an inch and one-half. Such devices are made to be
installed on threaded posts on each side of a wheel hub.
2
Further statutory references are to the Penal Code.
2


simply be held in the hand and wielded for “purposes of offense or defense.”
(§ 12020, subd. (c)(7), italics added.) The court reasoned that recent amendments
to section 12020 indicated a legislative intent to broaden its scope.
The Court of Appeal acknowledged that the prosecution was required to
prove David possessed the footrest as a weapon, knowing it could be so used and
willing to so use it should an occasion arise. (See People v. Grubb (1965) 63
Cal.2d 614, 621; People v. Fannin (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1399, 1404.) The court
found sufficient evidence of that mental state in the juvenile court‟s finding
regarding the size of the footrest, and in the officer‟s testimony that bicycle
footrests were commonly used as metal knuckles, that he was unable to find a
place for this footrest on David‟s bicycle, and that no second footrest was in place
on the bicycle.
We granted David‟s petition for review. David argues that the evidence
was insufficient both to show that the footrest qualified as “metal knuckles,” and
to establish the requisite mental state. Because we agree with his first argument,
we do not reach the second.
II. DISCUSSION
Before 1985, section 12020 prohibited possession of a “weapon of the kind
commonly known as . . . metal knuckles,” without defining the term. (Stats. 1953,
ch. 36, § 1, p. 653; see People v. King (2006) 38 Cal.4th 617, 623-624.) In People
v. Deane (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 82, 86-87, the court referred to a number of
dictionary definitions of metal or brass knuckles.3 Typical metal knuckles,

3
“Ballentine‟s Law Dictionary (2d ed. 1948): „A weapon used for offense
and defense, worn upon the hand to strike with as if striking with the fist. When
first known and used, the weapon was commonly made of brass, but it is now
made of steel, platinum or other heavy metal, as well as brass, but it retains the
name of brass knuckles, no matter of what material it is made.‟
(footnote continued on next page)
3


manufactured as weapons, are deemed inherently dangerous so that mere
possession is illegal regardless of the defendant‟s purposes. (People v. Ferguson
(1933) 129 Cal.App. 300, 304; see People v. Grubb, supra, 63 Cal.2d at p. 621, fn.
9; People v. Deane, supra, 259 Cal.App.2d at p. 89.)
As the Deane case made clear, however, more ambiguous objects may
qualify as metal knuckles. Deane was found with a three and one-quarter inch
metal bar welded at both ends to a metal strap. He claimed the device had been
made for him as a toolbox handle. (People v. Deane, supra, 259 Cal.App.2d at pp.
85-86.) The court held that because this legitimate use was possible, the jury had
to be instructed on “the elements which distinguish an illegal from a legal object,”
in order to “determine whether the object was a „metal knuckle‟ and not a box
handle.” (Id. at p. 90, citing People v. Grubb, supra, 63 Cal.2d at p. 614.)
In 1984, the Legislature added the definition now found in section 12020,
subdivision (c)(7): “As used in this section, „metal knuckles‟ means any device or
instrument made wholly or partially of metal which is worn for purposes of

(footnote continued from previous page)

“The Britannica World Language Dictionary (1958 ed.): „A device of
metal, fitting over the knuckles, used as a protection for them in striking and to
add force to the blow.‟

“Webster‟s New Twentieth Century Dictionary (2d ed.): „Linked metal
rings or a metal bar with holes for the fingers, worn for rough fighting.‟

“The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966): „A band
of metal with four finger holes that fits over the root knuckles of the hand, used for
increasing the effect of a blow from the fist.‟

“Black‟s Law Dictionary (4th ed. 1951): „A weapon worn on the hand for
the purposes of offense or defense, so made that in hitting with the fist
considerable damage is inflicted.‟

“Thorndike-Barnhart Comprehensive Desk Dictionary (1952): „A
protective metal device for the knuckles, used in fighting.‟ ” (People v. Deane,
supra, 259 Cal.App.2d at p. 87, fn. 6.)
4


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.” (Stats. 1984, ch.
1562, § 1.1, p. 5499.) In 1988, the Legislature amended section 12020,
subdivision (a)(1) to bar possession of “any metal knuckles” instead of
implements “commonly known” by that term, clarifying that the statutory
definition is controlling. (Stats. 1988, ch. 1269, § 2.7.)
To decide whether the bicycle footrest David carried in his pocket qualifies
as “metal knuckles” under section 12020, subdivision (c)(7), we turn first to the
words of the statute, giving them their ordinary meaning. (People v. King, supra,
38 Cal.4th at p. 622; People v. Rubalcava (2000) 23 Cal.4th 322, 328.) There is
force in David‟s argument that the ordinary meaning of “worn . . . in or on the
hand” does not include an object that is not somehow attached to the hand, but
merely grasped in it. The distinction between “wearing” an object and holding it
is a familiar one in the weapons context. A gun or knife that is “worn” is readily
understood to be carried in a holster or sheath. If it were gripped in the hand, a
different verb would be expected, such as “hold” or “carry.” Metal knuckles of
the usual sort, which are fitted to the hand, generally with holes for the fingers, are
“worn . . . in or on the hand.” But a metal cylinder like the footrest in this case is
not, in ordinary usage, said to be “worn” when held in the hand.
The Attorney General relies on an Oxford English Dictionary definition of
“wear” as “[t]o bear or carry (arms, also a stick or cane).” (20 Oxford English
Dict. (2d ed. 1989) p. 47.) However, we are satisfied that modern American usage
5
does not include this connotation, insofar as it extends to implements carried in the
hand.4 Also unpersuasive is the Attorney General‟s citation to web sites of purse
manufacturers where clutch purses and the like are said to be “worn in the hand.”
Even if this is common terminology in the fashion industry, it is unlikely that the
Legislature would have considered it in connection with a weapons statute.
Nevertheless, there is also some force in the Court of Appeal‟s observation
that the Legislature specifically included devices worn “in” the hand, perhaps
indicating an intent to include objects held in a closed fist. That interpretation is
consistent with other statutory language making it clear that metal knuckles may
simply provide support for the fist, not necessarily a striking surface. The device
either protects the wearer‟s hand while striking a blow or increases the force of
impact from 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
. . . .” (§ 12020, subd. (c)(7), italics added.) Moreover, we have long recognized
that section 12020 was enacted not only “to outlaw the classic instruments of
violence and their homemade equivalents,” but also “to outlaw possession of the
sometimes-useful object when the attendant circumstances, including the time,
place, destination of the possessor, the alteration of the object from standard form,
and other relevant facts indicated that the possessor would use the object for a

4
The most relevant example provided in the Oxford English Dictionary is
from 1749, in the Earl of Chesterfields‟s Letters to His Son: “His cane (if
unfortunately he wears one) is at perpetual war with every cup of tea or coffee he
drinks.” (20 Oxford English Dict., supra, at p. 47.) We doubt that the drafters of
section 12020, subdivision (c)(7) had in mind colloquialisms of the sort employed
by the Earl of Chesterfield. The only other example on point is equally archaic,
from an obscure 1819 source: “Both sexes . . . wear an umbrella in all seasons.”
(20 Oxford English Dict., supra, at p. 47, citing D.B. Warden, Acc. U.S. III 219.)
6


dangerous, not harmless, purpose.” (People v. Grubb, supra, 63 Cal.2d at pp.
620-621.)
To resolve the ambiguity of the term “worn . . . in or on the hand” in
section 12020, subdivision (c)(7), and determine whether the Legislature meant to
extend the definition of “metal knuckles” to include such innocently useful objects
as bicycle footrests, we consult the history of the 1984 legislation enacting the
statutory definition. (See People v. King, supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 622; People v.
Rubalcava, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 328.) A Senate Judiciary Committee Analysis
includes an illuminating set of comments on the newly proposed definition:
“(a) Emergence of a new type of metal knuckles
“Recently a number of violent crimes have been committed in which a
heretofore unknown weapon has been used. This weapon consists of a piece of
leather which can be attached to either the back or the palm of the hand, along
with a strap to secure the device to the wrist and leather loops for the assailant‟s
fingers. The apparatus is covered with metal cone-shaped spikes which are about
three-quarters of an inch long. Assailants can use these „metal knuckles‟ with a
closed fist or an open hand.
“In either case contact with this weapon will generally cause the victim
considerable injury.
“(b) New definition of „metal knuckles‟
“This bill defines the term „metal knuckles‟ contained in existing law and
includes this new weapon under that definition.
“The bill would prohibit any device made wholly or partially of metal, and
worn in or on the hand, which protects the wearer‟s hand when striking a blow or
increases the force of that blow. The metal contained in the device may help
support or shield the hand or fist, as in the case of traditional brass knuckles, or
consist of studs, as in the new weapon.
7
“(c) Minor modification to existing law
“The failure of the present statute to define „metal knuckles‟ has
necessitated that courts define the term. While the new type of metal knuckles
might fall under that definition: „A weapon worn on the hand for the purposes of
offense or defense, so made that in hitting with the fist considerable damage is
inflicted.‟ People v. Deane, 259 Cal.App.2d 82 at 87 note 6 — the bill would
eliminate any doubt on this question as it specifically defines „metal knuckles‟ as
including the new weapon.
“(d) Broadness of the statutory language
“The proposed definition would also cover any ring including a gold
wedding band because a ring would „protect the wearer‟s hand‟ and „increase the
force of impact from the blow.‟
“Should not the bill include the „for purposes of offense or defense‟
language from the court‟s description?” (Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Analysis of Sen.
Bill No. 2248 (1983-1984 Reg. Sess.), as amended Mar. 28, 1984, pp. 1-4,
capitalization omitted.)
A subsequent Assembly committee analysis reflects the adoption of the
Senate committee‟s suggestion to include “ „for purposes of offense or defense‟ ”
in the definition, and repeats the points made in the Senate committee analysis.
(Assem. Com. on Criminal Law and Public Safety, Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 2248
(1983-1984 Reg. Sess.), for hearing June 27, 1984, p. 1.) It too states that the bill
was intended as a “minor modification to existing law,” to ensure that “metal
knuckles” would include the “new weapon.” (Id. at p. 2.)
These materials are consistent with the ordinary meaning of “worn,” and
support David‟s claim that the Legislature did not intend the definition of “metal
knuckles” to include such objects as bicycle footrests. The new weapon that
caught the Legislature‟s attention, like ordinary metal knuckles, was made to
8
attach to the hand. Unlike the traditional device, however, this weapon was
sometimes used for striking with an open hand, using studs strapped to the palm,
which explains the Legislature‟s specification of “in or on the hand.” Moreover,
when considering the scope of the new definition, the Legislature was concerned
about including rings, which are “worn” on the hand. The committee analyses
reflect no consideration of objects that might merely be grasped while throwing a
punch, like rolls of coins, batteries, or bicycle footrests.5 Indeed, had such a broad
expansion of the common law understanding of “metal knuckles” been
contemplated, the analyses would not have described the proposed legislation as a
“minor modification” of existing law.
Therefore, notwithstanding the Legislature‟s use of alternative phrasing that
includes not only striking implements but also those that merely reinforce the fist,
we conclude that a cylindrical object that cannot be “worn . . . in or on the hand”
does not qualify as “metal knuckles” under section 12020, subdivision (c)(7). We
do not, however, hold that an object must necessarily attach to the hand in a
particularly secure fashion to meet the statutory definition. The statutory language
is flexible, and implements that are fitted to the hand, or wrapped around it, may
qualify as metal knuckles.

5
We note that such items may, on sufficient proof, be deemed instruments of
the crime of assault “with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm or
by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.” (§ 245.) It is
established that “objects, while not deadly per se, may be used, under certain
circumstances, in a manner likely to produce death or great bodily injury. In
determining whether an object not inherently deadly or dangerous is used as such,
the trier of fact may consider the nature of the object, the manner in which it is
used, and all other facts relevant to the issue. [Citations.]” (People v. Aguilar
(1997) 16 Cal.4th 1023, 1029; see 1 Witkin & Epstein, Cal. Criminal Law (3d ed.
2000) Crimes Against the Person, § 47, pp. 671-672.)
9


David asks us to disapprove In re Martin Alonzo L. (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th
93, which affirmed an order finding a minor guilty of possessing metal knuckles in
the form of a leather wallet with inch-long spikes embedded along one edge, so
spaced as to fit between the fingers if the wallet were held in the fist. (Id. at p.
95.) We decline to do so. The minor there did not claim that the wallet failed to
meet the statutory definition. The Court of Appeal considered only his argument
that the evidence failed to establish the mental state required for guilt. (Id. at pp.
96-97.) Furthermore, the wallet described by the court was more similar to
traditional metal knuckles than is a bicycle footrest, and bore some resemblance to
the “new weapon” mentioned in the legislative history reviewed above. The
minor conceded its status as “metal knuckles” under section 12020. We express
no view on that subject, noting only that a variety of devices may fall within the
definition of section 12020, subdivision (c)(7).
III. DISPOSITION
We reverse the Court of Appeal‟s judgment.
CORRIGAN, J.
WE CONCUR:

GEORGE, C.J.
KENNARD, J.
BAXTER, J.
WERDEGAR, J.
CHIN, J.
MORENO, J.
10


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion In re David V.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion


Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
XXX 166 Cal.App.4th 801
Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.

S167716
Date Filed: February 8, 2010
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:

Superior
County: Los Angeles
Judge: Fred J. Fujioka

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Appellant:

John A. Colucci, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Respondent:

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Pamela C.
Hamanaka, Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, James William Bilderback II, Lawrence M.
Daniels and David Zarmi, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

John A. Colucci
13273 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 101
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 990-1507

David Zarmi
Deputy Attorney General
300 South Spring Street, Suite 1702
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 576-1336


Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed orders in a wardship proceeding. This case includes the following issues: (1) Was there sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's finding that the minor possessed metal knuckles within the meaning of Penal Code section 12020, subdivision (c)(7)? (2) Did the juvenile court fail to declare the offense a felony or a misdemeanor, as required by Welfare and Institutions Code section 702?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Category:Status:
Mon, 02/08/201048 Cal. 4th 23, 223 P.3d 603, 104 Cal. Rptr. 3d 471S167716Review - Criminal Appealsubmitted/opinion due

Parties
1V., David (Overview party)
Represented by John A. Colucci
Law Office of John A. Colucci
13273 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 101
Studio City, CA

2The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by David Zarmi
Office of the Attorney General
300 S. Spring Street, Suite 1702
Los Angeles, CA

3V., David (Defendant and Appellant)
Represented by John A. Colucci
Law Office of John A. Colucci
13273 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 101
Studio City, CA


Opinion Authors
OpinionJustice Carol A. Corrigan

Dockets
Oct 20 2008Petition for review filed
  David V., appellant John A. Colucci, counsel
Oct 23 2008Received Court of Appeal record
 
Oct 23 2008Record requested
 
Dec 17 2008Petition for review granted (civil case)
  Votes: George, C.J., Kennard, Werdegar, Chin and Corrigan, JJ.
Dec 23 2008Issues ordered limited
  The issue to be briefed and argued is limited to the following: Was there sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's finding that the minor possessed metal knuckles within the meaning of Penal Code section12020, subdivision (C)(7)? Werdegar, J., was absent and did not participate.
Jan 9 2009Counsel appointment order filed
  Upon request of appellant for appointment of counsel, John A. Colucci is hereby appointed to represent appellant on the appeal now pending in this court. Appellant's brief on the merits must be served and filed on or before thirty (30) days from the date of this order.
Feb 2 2009Request for extension of time filed
  30-days, until March 11, 2009, to serve and file appellant's opening brief on the merits David V., appellant by John A. Colucci, counsel
Feb 6 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the appellant's opening brief on the merits is extended to and including March 11, 2009.
Mar 3 2009Request for extension of time filed
  30-days, until April 13, 2009, to serve and file appellant's opening brief on the merits David V., appellant by John A. Colucci, counsel
Mar 5 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file appellant's opening brief on the merits is extended to and including April 13, 2009.
Apr 8 2009Request for extension of time filed
  30-days, until May 13, 2009, to serve and file the appellant's opening brief on the merits. David V., appellant by John A. Colucci, counsel
Apr 15 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the appellant's opening brief on the merits is extended to and including May 13, 2009.
May 7 2009Request for extension of time filed
  30-days, 6-15-09, to file opening brief on the merits ~ David V., appellant by John A. Colucci, counsel
May 13 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file appellant's Opening Brief on the Merits is extended to and including June 15, 2009. No further extension is contemplated.
Jun 15 2009Opening brief on the merits filed
Defendant and Appellant: V., DavidAttorney: John A. Colucci   David V., Appellant by Hohn A. Colucci, counsel
Jun 15 2009Request for judicial notice filed (Grant or AA case)
Defendant and Appellant: V., DavidAttorney: John A. Colucci   David V., Appellant by John A. Colucci, counsel
Jul 9 2009Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty Colucci
Jul 13 2009Request for extension of time filed
  to file the answer brief. David Zarmi, Deputy Attorney General
Jul 16 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of Respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file respondent's Answer Brief on the Merits is hereby extended to and including August 14, 2009.
Aug 11 2009Request for extension of time filed
  30-days, until September 14, 2009, to serve and file respondent's answer brief on the merits. by David Zarmi, Deputy Attorney General
Aug 13 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of Respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file respondent's Answer Brief on the Merits is hereby extended to and including September 14, 2009. No further extension will be contemplated.
Sep 14 2009Answer brief on the merits filed
Plaintiff and Respondent: The PeopleAttorney: David Zarmi   The People, Plaintiff and Respondent David Zarmi, Deputy Attorney General
Sep 29 2009Request for extension of time filed
  twenty (20) days, to and including October 26, 2009, to serve and file appellant's reply brief on the merits. David V., appellant John A. Colucci, counsel
Oct 1 2009Extension of time granted
  On application of Appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the appellant's reply brief on the merits is extended to and including October 26, 2009. No further extension will be contemplated.
Oct 26 2009Request for extension of time filed
 
Oct 26 2009Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
Defendant and Appellant: V., DavidAttorney: John A. Colucci  
Dec 2 2009Case ordered on calendar
  to be argued on January 6, 2010, at 1:30 p.m., in San Francisco.
Dec 9 2009Exhibit(s) lodged
  People's Exhibit 1 (Bicycle Footrest); from superior court.
Dec 14 2009Request for judicial notice granted
  Appellant's request for judicial notice, filed on June 15, 2009, is granted.
Dec 23 2009Argument rescheduled
  to be argued on Tuesday, January 5, 2010, at 1:30 p.m., in San Francisco
Jan 5 2010Cause argued and submitted
 
Feb 5 2010Notice of forthcoming opinion posted
  To be filed on Monday, February 8, 2010 @ 10 a.m.

Briefs
Jun 15 2009Opening brief on the merits filed
Defendant and Appellant: V., DavidAttorney: John A. Colucci  
Sep 14 2009Answer brief on the merits filed
Plaintiff and Respondent: The PeopleAttorney: David Zarmi  
Oct 26 2009Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
Defendant and Appellant: V., DavidAttorney: John A. Colucci  
Brief Downloads
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In re David V. - Answer brief on the merits.pdf (86813 bytes)
If you'd like to submit a brief document to be included for this opinion, please submit an e-mail to the SCOCAL website
May 1, 2010
Annotated by smurphy1

Facts:

14-year-old David was stopped by a Los Angeles police officer for riding a bicycle without a helmet. During a consensual search, the officer found a bicycle footrest in David’s pants pocket.
The officer described it as a hollow cylinder about three and one-half inches long. During his time with the gang detail, the officer learned that such footrests were commonly “used as an impact punching device.” The officer was unable to find a place where the footrest would attach to David’s bicycle, and no other footrest was installed.

Procedural History:

David was charged with possession of “metal knuckles” as a weapon, a violation of Penal Code § 12020(a)(1). The trial court decided the bicycle footrest was properly considered metal knuckles within the meaning of the statute and that David had carried the device as a weapon. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

Issue:

Can a cylindrical object that cannot be “worn . . . in or on the hand,” such as a bicycle footrest, properly be considered metal knuckles within the meaning of Penal Code § 12020?

Holding:

No, to be considered metal knuckles with the meaning of Penal Code § 12020 an object must be “worn . . . in or on the hand.”

Because the Court did not consider the bicycle footrest to be metal knuckles, it did not address whether or not David possessed the footrest as a weapon.

Reasoning:

(1) Penal Code § 12020(c)(7) defines metal knuckles as “any device or instrument made wholly or partially of metal which is worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand . . .” The ordinary meaning of “worn . . . in or on the hand” includes only objects which somehow attach to the hand. David’s bicycle footrest does not attach to his hand. Thus, it cannot be considered metal knuckles with the meaning of the statute.

(2) The Legislature did not intend for bicycle footrests to be considered metal knuckles within the meaning of Penal Code § 12020. The statute originally prohibited possession of a “weapon of the kind commonly known as . . . metal knuckles” without defining the term. A common conception of metal knuckles would not include a bicycle footrest like the one in this case. According to a Senate Judiciary Committee Analysis, the Legislature, in 1984, added the current definition of metal knuckles to the statute in order to include a new type of metal knuckles made of leather and metal spikes which could be attached to the hand. This was intended to be a “minor modification to existing law” to ensure that metal knuckles would include the “new weapon.” It was not intended to include bicycle footrests like the one David carried.

Ruling:

Reversed.

Tags:

David V., search, bicycle footrest, impact punching device, metal knuckles, 12020

by Sean Murphy