Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In Re B.M. (Cal. Ct. App. - April 20, 2017)

Is a butter knife -- the same one you probably used in the last 24 hours -- a "deadly weapon" in California?

The Court of Appeal has previously said "No."  The Court of Appeal in this opinion says "Yes," calling the prior opinion "wrongly decided."

See which opinion you think is correct.

I will submit one argument in favor of the former.  Apart from the fact that, when I think "deadly weapon," the phrase "butter knife" doesn't necessarily immediately come to mind.

According to the Court of Appeal's opinion, "as used in [Penal Code] section 245, subdivision (a)(1), a ‘deadly weapon’ is ‘any object, instrument, or weapon which is used in such a manner as to be capable of producing and likely to produce, death or great bodily injury.'"

The Court of Appeal's opinion repeatedly discusses whether a butter knife is "capable" of producing death or great bodily injury.  I assume it is.  So's a lego.  Stick it in the right -- or, more accurately, wrong -- place and, yeah, those things can indeed take you down.

But after defining the term, the Court of Appeal doesn't even once mention whether a butter knife is "likely" to produce death or great bodily injury.  The word "likely' doesn't even appear once.  Despite the fact that the "and" part of the definition suggests that a deadly weapon indeed needs to be both capable and likely to produce death or GBI.  Since "and" generally means and.

I think the "likely" part is whether the rubber meets the road.  Both here and generally.  A gun is a deadly weapon because it's capable and likely to produce seriously injury when you use it against someone.  A lego isn't because it's not.

And a butter knife?  Well, let me just say this.  I'd much rather have someone attack me with a butter knife than a whole, whole lot of other things.

And if someone told me that their neighbor had been attacked with a butter knife and made me bet one way or the other as to whether that butter knife caused him death or great bodily injury, I think I know on which side I'd place the wager.