Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Supreme Court: Bicycle Footrest Not ‘Metal Knuckles’
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Possession of a cylindrical bicycle footrest does not violate the statute banning “metal knuckles,” even if the device is often used as a weapon by gang members, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
“[N]otwithstanding 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 [Penal Code] section 12020, subdivision (c)(7),” Justice Carol Corrigan wrote.
The decision overturns lower court rulings that because it could be held in a closed fist, the footrest was a proscribed weapon when possessed by a juvenile who, a police officer testified, could not have been using it for an innocent purpose because there was no means of affixing it to the bicycle the minor was riding when stopped.
The minor was charged with possessing metal knuckles 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 approximately three and a half inches long and an inch and a half in diameter—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 Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Fred Fujioka sustained the petition and adjudged the minor a ward of the court, the minor challenged the jurist’s interpretation of the statute on appeal.
Div. Five of this district’s Court of Appeal affirmed, with Justice Orville Armstrong opining that the law does not require a showing that an object be affixed to the hand to constitute metal knuckles.
But Corrigan, in her opinion for the high court, said neither the plain language nor the legislative history behind the 1984 language expanding the definition of metal knuckles supports the lower courts’ interpretation.
She cited a Senate committee report saying the law was intended as a “minor modification,” outlawing “a new type of metal knuckles,” described as “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” with spikes attached.
“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. 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.”
The appeal was argued in the Supreme Court by John A. Colucci of Studio City, by appointment, for the juvenile and by Deputy Attorney General David Zarmi of Los Angeles for the prosecution.
The case is In re David V., 10 S.O.S. 756.
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