Tuesday, December 08, 2009

In Re S.C. (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 8, 2009)

Only two published opinions today, both by the California Court of Appeal. So a slow judicial news day.

I thought that I was going to violently disagree with this one. (Okay, so not truly "violently," but you know what I mean.) But in the end, I don't. At all. Though I do think that the opinion could have been written a bit more clearly at the outset, if only to upset the casual reader like me who tends to jump to conclusions.

Here's what the first paragraph of the opinion says:

"Appellant S.C. was found to be a ward of the court after police discovered a switchblade knife in his pocket during a search conducted at a private residence. Appellant contends he did not violate Penal Code section 653k (hereafter section 653k), the statute governing possession of a switchblade, because he was not in a 'public place or place open to the public' at the time the knife was found. Construing the language of section 653k, we conclude the statute is violated any time a person carries a switchblade knife on his or her person, regardless of where the possession occurs. We therefore affirm."

Okay, I guess I get that. But is the Court of Appeal really saying that a private residence is a "public place or place open to the public" under the statute? I admittedly could see an argument to that effect -- houses often have visitors, for example -- but that doesn't seem very persuasive to me, and seems instead belied by the distinction between public and nonpublic spaces that the statute expressly adopts.

And yet, as I'm reading the opinion, my sense was that this was exactly where Justice Margulies was going. Even when we get to the discussion section, the Court of Appeal is framing the debate this way: "Appellant contends he could not be found to have violated section 653k, which governs possession of switchblade knives, because he did not possess the knife in a 'public place or place open to the public.' The Attorney General argues the statute does not require possession in a public place and, alternatively, appellant entered a public place when he walked onto the porch."

It's only halfway through the opinion that Justice Margulies finally quotes the statute. Which reads: "Every person who possesses in the passenger's or driver's area of any motor vehicle in any public place or place open to the public, carries upon his or her person, and every person who sells, offers for sale, exposes for sale, loans, transfers, or gives to any other person a switchblade knife having a blade two or more inches in length is guilty of a misdemeanor."

Well duh. Why didn't you say that in the first place? The statute itself could not be clearer. The "public place" clause only applies to automobiles. The "carries upon his or her person" section is different, and has no such modifier. Which, in the end, is exactly what Justice Margulies holds.

So I'd have quoted the statute at the outset of the opinion. Since, in my mind, that's pretty much all you've got to say. By quoting the thing halfway through the opinion, you get people like me all excited. Which, being in our 40s and all, and fairly sedentary, is not what we want.