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Possession of a Switchblade Knife – PC 21510

Review of California Penal Code 21510 PC

A switchblade is a pocketknife with a blade at least 2 inches long and flips open either through a button or another mechanism. Butterfly or fan blades are also considered switchblades under the statutory definition.

In California, it is illegal to carry the switchblade onto a bus or any other form of public transportation, possess the switchblade in public or private, sell, offer for sale, loan, or give the switchblade to anyone.

Possession of a Switchblade Knife – Penal Code 21510 PC
It's a misdemeanor crime under Penal Code 21510 to knowingly, carry, possess, or sell a switchblade.

In other words, it is illegal to knowingly own, possess, or carry a switchblade. It does not matter if you openly carry a switchblade, leave it open, or conceal it, and any possession of a switchblade can lead to criminal charges.

It is also irrelevant if you did not intend to use the switchblade as a weapon; possession alone is enough for a conviction. California laws related to switchblades can be found in Penal Code 21510 PC. A concealed switchblade can lead to a separate charge of carrying a concealed dirk or dagger under Penal Code 21310 PC.

California Penal Code 17235 PC lays out the legal definition of a switchblade as “a knife with the appearance of a pocketknife and includes a spring-blade knife, snap-blade knife, gravity knife, or similar type knife, the blade of which is two or more inches and can be released automatically by a flick of a button, pressure on the handle, flip of the wrist or other mechanical device, or released by the weight of the blade….”

A conviction for violating PC 21510 is a misdemeanor crime that carries up to six months in jail and a fine. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers, we will examine this law in more detail below.

What Does PC 21510 Make Illegal?

As noted, Penal Code 21510 PC makes it unlawful to do any of the following:

  • To carry a switchblade upon your person;
  • To possess a switchblade in the driver's area of a vehicle in public;
  • To sell, offer to sell, or expose a switchblade for sale;
  • To loan or transfer a switchblade to another person.

Readers should note that the driver's area covers the open driver and passenger area and interior compartments, such as the glove box. To carry a switchblade “upon your person” does not just include holding it, but also any scenario where you have control over the switchblade, meaning in your pocket.

To convict you of carrying a switchblade in violation of Penal Code Section 21510, prosecutors must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, all the elements of the crime below:

  • You knew you were carrying a switchblade on your person or vehicle; and
  • You knew it had the characteristics of a switchblade as legally defined.

There is no requirement to prove you had the intent to use the switchblade as a weapon to be convicted. Put simply; it's illegal to knowingly have possession of a switchblade knife in California. 

What are the Potential Penalties for a Switchblade Conviction?

Being convicted of 21510 PC, and possessing a switchblade, will result in a misdemeanor on your criminal record. Upon conviction, a judge can sentence someone to up to six months in county jail and impose a fine of up to $1,000.

A judge can also order probation in lieu of jail time which can include several conditions such as:

  • No violations of any other criminal law,
  • Random drug or alcohol testing,
  • Community service,
  • Participating in counseling or treatment or
  • Paying appropriate restitution.

There are several other types of conditions that can be imposed depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. A PC 21510 misdemeanor conviction will not usually result in jail time, but there are aggravating circumstances where the chances of jail time increase, such as the following situations:

  • You have a prior criminal record;
  • You have a history of violent acts;
  • You are a gang member or engaged in gang activity;
  • You resisted arrest or were not cooperative with police;
  • You had the intent to use the switchblade as a weapon.

If any of these factors can be proven, the judge has sentencing discretion and could impose incarceration.

Can a Conviction Affect Immigration Status?

Potentially. Crimes that are considered crimes of moral turpitude or aggravated felonies under US immigration law can result in deportation or inadmissibility.

Deportation involves being physically removed from the United States, and inadmissibility deals with an individual's ability to legally enter the United States either for the first time or after leaving the country.

Can this Crime Be Expunged?

Yes, an expungement of possession of a switchblade conviction is possible under California law at Penal Code 1203.4 PC.

This conviction is expungable because the crime is a misdemeanor that does not carry the possibility of prison time. Felonies are not expungable under California state law.

What Are Some Related Offenses?

In California, there are several related offenses to possession of a switchblade, with the most common being carrying a concealed dirk or dagger under Penal Code 21310 PC.

carrying a concealed dirk or dagger - Penal Code 21310 PC.
There are several related crimes to possession of a switchblade, such as PC 16470 dirk and dagger law.

The definition of dirk or dagger can be found in Penal Code 16470 PC, which states that a dirk or dagger is a knife or other instrument capable of being used as a stabbing weapon that can cause great bodily injury or death upon another.

This is a wobbler offense that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony by the prosecutor, depending on the facts and circumstances.

If charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction for the concealed carry of a dirk or dagger can result in up to one year in the county jail and a $1,000 fine.

If charged as a felony, a conviction for the concealed carry of a dirk or dagger can result in up to three years in state prison and a $10,000 fine. Other related statutes include:

  • Penal Code 417 PC - brandishing a weapon;
  • Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC – assault with a deadly weapon;
  • Penal Code 20200 PC – open carry dirk and dagger;
  • Penal Code 16590 PC – possession of prohibited weapons;
  • Penal Code 171b PC – weapon possession in a public building;
  • Penal Code 626.10(a)(1) PC – weapon possession in schools.

Carrying a switchblade is illegal under federal law under 15 USC 1241-44. A conviction can result in a federal felony, five years in prison, and a fine of $2,000.

What Defenses Are Available to a Switchblade Charge?

A few defenses can exist for possession of a switchblade charge. The most common reasons for this type of charge include:

  • The knife is not a switchblade under the statutory definition;
  • The defendant did not own the switchblade;
  • The defendant did not know that the knife was considered a switchblade;
  • The defendant did not know that they had the switchblade;
  • Evidence was illegally obtained by law enforcement; or
  • Constitutional violations by the police.

If the police obtained the switchblade during an illegal search, then a motion can be filed to suppress the evidence, leading to an outright dismissal of the charge.

Perhaps we could challenge whether the police officer had probable cause to search you or your vehicle. If successful, the switchblade could be suppressed as evidence, and the prosecutor is forced to dismiss the charges.

Defenses to a Switchblade Charge
There are several legal defenses we can use to challenge charges of illegal possession of a switchblade.

Perhaps we can argue that the knife you were accused of carrying doesn't meet the legal definition of a switchblade. From above, Penal Code 17235 PC provides a specific description of a switchblade.

Suppose the knife has characteristics outside the legal definition, such as a mechanism that allows opening the knife. In that case, we might be able to prove it fails to qualify as a switchblade, and you can't be held criminally liable.

Perhaps you were aware you were carrying a switchblade in your vehicle. Remember, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor. Maybe we can doubt whether you knew you had the knife.

Through prefiling negotiations with the District Attorney, perhaps we can persuade them to reduce or drop the charges. Eisner Gorin LLP is a Los Angeles-based criminal law firm. You can contact us for an initial case evaluation at (877) 781-1570 or fill out the contact form.

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