Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Bicycle Footrest Violated ‘Metal Knuckles’ Ban—C.A.
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a juvenile court finding that a minor possessed “metal knuckles,” based on a police officer’s testimony that gang members often use bicycle footrests similar to the one he found in the minor’s pocket as weapons.
Concluding that the Legislature intended the statute defining metal knuckles as a weapon “worn…in or on the hand” to reach objects held in a closed fist, as well as those that can be attached to the hand, Div. Five ruled that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Fred J. Fujioka could reasonably have concluded that the minor was carrying the footrest as a weapon, and not with the general intent of using it for its intended purpose, based on the officer’s testimony that there was no means of affixing the footrest to the bicycle the minor was riding when stopped.
The minor was charged with possessing metal knuckles in violation of Penal Code Sec. 12020 and possessing a weapon on school grounds in violation of Sec. 626.10(a) after the officer stopped him and recovered the footrest—which was a cylindrical object, approximately three and a half inches long and an inch and a half in diameter, and designed for attachment to a bicycle—from the minor’s rear pants pocket.
Testifying that there were no other footrests already attached to the bicycle, the officer said that he could neither secure the footrest to the bicycle, even though the system of attachment appeared fairly basic, nor could he find a place where it could be attached.
The officer, who was presented at trial as a gang expert, also testified that bicycle footrests are commonly used as metal knuckles, explaining that, with the cylindrical object placed in the hand with the fingers rolled over it, it can be used “as an impact punching device to further the effect of punching.”
After Fujioka sustained the petition alleging possession of metal knuckles and adjudged the minor a ward of the court, the minor contended on appeal that admission of the officer’s testimony was improper and should have been excluded on the grounds of relevancy because past acts by other persons was not probative of his intent.
He also asserted that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that he possessed metal knuckles, and argued that Fujioka failed to declare the offense a felony or misdemeanor as required by Welfare and Institutions Code Sec. 702.
However, Justice Orville A. Armstrong, despite writing that the minor’s relevancy argument was “well-taken,” affirmed Fujioka’s determinations.
“[T]he fact that bicycle footrests are commonly used as weapons increases the likelihood that such an object would be carried by any person as a weapon. While [the] testimony may not have served as conclusive proof of appellant’s mental state, it was, at the least, minimally probative of his intent.”
Armstrong also rejected the minor’s argument that the juvenile court had improperly relied on the officer’s testimony as proof of intent, noting that the officer “never directly testified to what he believed appellant’s mental state to be at the time,” instead limiting his testimony to “common practices of which he was aware based on his experience.”
Turning to the sufficiency of the evidence, Armstrong concluded both that substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s determination that the footrest fit within the statutory definition of “metal knuckles,” and established the necessary mens rea to sustain the conviction.
Rejecting the minor’s contention that the statute’s use of the word “worn” required a showing that the metal knuckles were affixed to the hand, Armstrong noted:
“If appellant were correct that an object must be attached to the hand to be metal knuckles, metal knuckles could always be defined as objects worn ‘on the hand.’ There would be no need for the alternative definition placing metal knuckles ‘in…the hand.’”
Armstrong also wrote that the juvenile court could reasonably have concluded that the minor had been carrying footrest as a weapon, and not with general intent of using it for its intended purpose, based on the officer’s testimony.
He then swept aside the minor’s contention that Fujioka’s declaration that he thought the offenses were felonies did not evidence awareness that the violation was a so-called “wobbler” offense, or an acknowledgment of the judge’s discretion to declare the offense a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.
“[W]here a juvenile court makes an express declaration, the declaration itself is evidence that the court was aware of and exercised its discretion,” he wrote.
Presiding Justice Paul Turner and Justice Sandy R. Kriegler joined Armstrong in his opinion.
The case is In re David V., B203840.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company