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In re David V.

February 8, 2010

IN RE DAVID V., A PERSON COMING UNDER THE JUVENILE COURT LAW.
THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
DAVID V., DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Ct.App. 2/5 B203840, Los Angeles County, Superior Court No. PJ41304, Judge: Fred J. Fujioka.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Corrigan, J.

The juvenile court sustained a petition charging David V. with possession of metal knuckles. On appeal, David argued that the bicycle footrest found in his pocket did not come within the statutory definition of "metal knuckles," and even if it did there was no proof he possessed it with criminal intent. The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments, and affirmed. We reverse. A cylindrical object like the footrest in this case is not a device "worn . . . in or on the hand," under the definition of "metal knuckles" provided in Penal Code section 12020, subdivision (c)(7).

I. BACKGROUND

Around 1:30 on the afternoon of August 21, 2007, a Los Angeles police officer stopped 14-year-old David for riding his bicycle without a helmet. During a consensual search the officer recovered a bicycle footrest from David's pants pocket. The officer described this item as a hollow cylinder about three and one-half inches long.*fn1 In his experience with the gang detail, he had learned that such footrests were commonly used as brass knuckles, held in a closed fist and "used as an impact punching device." The officer was unable to find a place where the footrest would attach to David's bicycle, and no other footrest was installed.

A petition was filed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 charging David with possession of metal knuckles, a violation of Penal Code section 12020, subdivision (a)(1).*fn2 After a hearing where the arresting officer testified and the footrest was received in evidence, the court put the matter over so counsel could submit authority on whether the device met the statutory definition of "metal knuckles." At a subsequent hearing, the court decided the footrest amounted to a metal device "worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand and which either protects the wearer's hand while striking a blow or increases the force of impact from the blow or injury to the individual receiving the blow." (§ 12020, subd. (c)(7).) The court also determined that David had carried the device as a weapon. It noted that the footrest did not fit on his bicycle, was something used to brace the fist for purposes of punching, and was so large that he would not casually have carried it in his pocket.

In the Court of Appeal, David contended that because the statute requires metal knuckles to be worn, it applies only to weapons that can be affixed to the hand. The court disagreed, reasoning that the Legislature would not have used the term "worn . . . in or on the hand" if it did not mean to include objects that could simply be held in the hand and wielded for "purposes of offense or defense." (§ 12020, subd. (c)(7), italics added.) The court reasoned that recent amendments to section 12020 indicated a legislative intent to broaden its scope.

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that the prosecution was required to prove David possessed the footrest as a weapon, knowing it could be so used and willing to so use it should an occasion arise. (See People v. Grubb (1965) 63 Cal.2d 614, 621; People v. Fannin (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1399, 1404.) The court found sufficient evidence of that mental state in the juvenile court's finding regarding the size of the footrest, and in the officer's testimony that bicycle footrests were commonly used as metal knuckles, that he was unable to find a place for this footrest on David's bicycle, and that no second footrest was in place on the bicycle.

We granted David's petition for review. David argues that the evidence was insufficient both to show that the footrest qualified as "metal knuckles," and to establish the requisite mental state. Because we agree with his first argument, we do not reach the second.

II. DISCUSSION

Before 1985, section 12020 prohibited possession of a "weapon of the kind commonly known as . . . metal knuckles," without defining the term. (Stats. 1953, ch. 36, § 1, p. 653; see People v. King (2006) 38 Cal.4th 617, 623-624.) In People v. Deane (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 82, 86- 87, the court referred to a number of dictionary definitions of metal or brass knuckles.*fn3 Typical metal knuckles, manufactured as weapons, are deemed inherently dangerous so that mere possession is illegal regardless of the defendant's purposes. (People v. Ferguson (1933) 129 Cal.App. 300, 304; see People v. Grubb, supra, 63 Cal.2d at p. 621, fn. 9; People v. Deane, supra, 259 Cal.App.2d at p. 89.)

As the Deane case made clear, however, more ambiguous objects may qualify as metal knuckles. Deane was found with a three and one-quarter inch metal bar welded at both ends to a metal strap. He claimed the device had been made for him as a toolbox handle. (People v. Deane, supra, 259 Cal.App.2d at pp. 85-86.) The court held that because this legitimate use was possible, the jury had to be instructed on "the elements which distinguish an illegal from a legal object," in order to "determine whether the object was a `metal knuckle' and not a box handle." (Id. at p. 90, citing People v. Grubb, supra, 63 Cal.2d at p. 614.)

In 1984, the Legislature added the definition now found in section 12020, subdivision (c)(7): "As used in this section, `metal knuckles' means any device or instrument made wholly or partially of metal which is worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand and which either protects the wearer's hand while striking a blow or increases the force of impact from the blow or injury to the individual receiving the blow. The metal contained in the device may help support the hand or fist, provide a shield to protect it, or consist of projections or studs which would contact the individual receiving a blow." (Stats. 1984, ch. 1562, § 1.1, p. 5499.) In 1988, the Legislature amended section 12020, subdivision (a)(1) to bar possession of "any metal knuckles" instead of implements "commonly known" by that term, clarifying that the statutory definition is controlling. (Stats. 1988, ch. 1269, § 2.7.)

To decide whether the bicycle footrest David carried in his pocket qualifies as "metal knuckles" under section 12020, subdivision (c)(7), we turn first to the words of the statute, giving them their ordinary meaning. (People v. King, supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 622; People v. Rubalcava (2000) 23 Cal.4th 322, 328.) There is force in David's argument that the ordinary meaning of "worn . . . in or on the hand" does not include an object that is not somehow attached to the hand, but merely grasped in it. The distinction between "wearing" an object and holding it is a familiar one in the weapons context. A gun or knife that is "worn" is readily understood to be carried in a holster or sheath. If it were gripped in the hand, a different verb would be expected, such as "hold" or "carry." Metal knuckles of the usual sort, which are fitted to the hand, generally with holes for the fingers, are "worn . . . in or on the hand." But a metal cylinder like the footrest in this case is not, in ordinary usage, said to be "worn" when held in the hand.

The Attorney General relies on an Oxford English Dictionary definition of "wear" as "[t]o bear or carry (arms, also a stick or cane)." (20 Oxford English Dict. (2d ed. 1989) p. 47.) However, we are satisfied that modern American usage does not include this connotation, insofar as it extends to implements carried in the hand.*fn4 Also unpersuasive is the Attorney General's citation to web sites of purse manufacturers where clutch purses and the like are said to be "worn in the hand." Even if this is common ...


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