California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, No. SCD242311 Albert T. Harutunian III, Judge.
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Maureen M. Bodo, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.
Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, William M. Wood and Meagan J. Beale, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.
NARES, Acting P. J.
Defendant Emmanuel Castillolopez challenges the constitutionality of Penal Code section 16470, which defines a "dirk" or "dagger" as "a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is
capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death." Referring to three specific types of knives, section 16470 also provides that "[a] nonlocking folding knife, a folding knife that is not prohibited by Section 21510,  or a pocketknife is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death only if the blade of the knife is exposed and locked into position." (Italics added.)
This case arose when a police officer conducted a pat-down search during a traffic stop and found Castillolopez was carrying in a jacket pocket a Swiss Army knife with the blade in the open position. A jury convicted Castillolopez of one count of carrying a concealed dirk or dagger in violation of section 21310. Castillolopez admitted allegations he had suffered both a prior prison conviction (§§ 667.5, subd. (b), 668) and a prior "strike" (§§ 667, subds. (b)-(i), 1170.12, 668). The court denied Castillolopez's motion to strike the prior strike allegation under section 1385 and People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497 [53 Cal.Rptr.2d 789, 917 P.2d 628] (hereafter the Romero motion). The court then sentenced Castillolopez to the lower state prison term of 16 months doubled to 32 months (two years eight months) under the Three Strikes law as a result of his prior strike, plus a one-year term for the prison prior enhancement, for a total prison term of three years eight months.
Castillolopez contends his conviction of a violation of section 21310 must be reversed because (1) the definition of "dirk" or "dagger" in section 16470 is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define "nonlocking folding knife" or "locked into position, " and, thus, section 16470 does not give fair notice of what kind of knife is prohibited and it invites arbitrary enforcement by the police; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that the Swiss Army knife was a dirk or dagger within the meaning of sections 16470 and 21310 because an unaltered Swiss Army knife like his "can never be locked into position"; and (3) the court committed prejudicial error both when it failed to instruct the jury sua sponte on the meaning of the phrase "locked into position" in section 16470 when it instructed the jury under CALCRIM No. 2501, and when it failed to instruct the jury on the meaning of that phrase in response to the jury's note during deliberations asking for the definition of the phrase. In the alternative, Castillolopez contends that, if
this court does not reverse his conviction, the denial of his Romero motion should be reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court with directions to strike his prior strike.
We conclude section 16470 is not unconstitutionally vague, but Castillolopez's conviction of carrying a concealed dirk or dagger in violation of section 21310 must be reversed because there is no substantial evidence to support the jury's findings that the open blade of the Swiss Army knife he was carrying was locked into position within the meaning of section 16470, and, thus, that he violated section 21310 by carrying a concealed dirk or dagger.
A. The People's Case
In July 2012 Castillolopez was a passenger in a car stopped by Officer Bryce Charpentier of the San Diego Police Department, who was by himself in a patrol car. Castillolopez's vehicle did not immediately stop and when it eventually did it was bumper-to-bumper facing Officer Charpentier's patrol car.
Officer Charpentier got out of his patrol car, drew his gun, and pointed it at Castillolopez's car, ordering the driver and Castillolopez to show their hands and not make any sudden movements. The driver complied immediately, but Officer Charpentier shouted the commands several times before Castillolopez complied. Castillolopez looked directly at Officer Charpentier, reached around in the car and moved his hands somewhere under the dashboard while maintaining eye contact with Officer Charpentier, and then slowly put his hands up. Officer Charpentier ordered Castillolopez to get out of the car, turn around, and walk backwards. Castillolopez complied.
Officer Charpentier then arrested Castillolopez and conducted a pat-down search of his person. Officer Charpentier testified he took from Castillolopez's front jacket pocket a Swiss Army knife, which he described as a "collapsible knife, " the blade of which was "in a locked, open position." Officer Charpentier stated he photographed and impounded the knife.
On cross-examination, Officer Charpentier held the body of the Swiss Army knife in his right hand with the blade in the open position and then closed the knife with his left hand by pushing the blade down into the body of the knife. To close the knife he did not have to push on anything other than the blade.
The People's expert, Cameron Gary─an investigator with the district attorney's office trained in self-defense and weapons─testified he could not
remember the exact term used for the type of mechanism Castillolopez's knife has, but the mechanism is a "friction, slash, spring lock." Investigator Gary stated "there is a spring as well as tension from the actual—the body of the—of the handle that holds the blade in place, " and "you have to overcome that spring tension and that friction in order to close it back up again. That's what holds it in place." He also stated that the blade would "click into place, " making "kind of a clicking sound, " when the spring tension was overcome and the blade was opened. He indicated the blade then would be in the "exposed and locked position." He testified the knife can inflict great bodily harm when it is "in a locked open position."
Investigator Gary also testified, however, that, although the Swiss Army knife blade can puncture soft material, it cannot easily puncture something hard, like a binder, without collapsing. He described the Swiss Army knife as "more of a tool" than a defensive weapon. He also stated that other tools capable of being used as stabbing instruments include scissors, ballpoint pens, knitting needles, bedsprings, and sharpened plastic combs and toothbrushes.
On cross-examination, Investigator Gary testified that a Swiss Army knife is commonly understood to be a pocketknife or folding blade knife. He opined that the effectiveness of this type of knife as a stabbing instrument is limited because if the blade should hit something hard like a bone, there is a risk it would collapse on the user. He stated he would classify the Swiss Army knife as "more of a tool" and opined it "wouldn't... be considered a fighting knife like a stabbing tool."
When asked on cross-examination whether he would describe Castillolopez's Swiss Army knife as a locking blade knife, Investigator Gary replied that that was a difficult question and stated, "I would say that this is a type of locking mechanism. It wouldn't be what I would consider to be the best type of locking mechanism, but... some resistance does have to be overcome."
When also asked on cross-examination to define the word "lock, " Investigator Gary replied it generally means to make something immovable. He indicated there was nothing on Castillolopez's Swiss Army knife that one must manipulate to either lock the blade in place or unlock it. He also indicated there are some folding knives that have a physical lock which, unlike the "pressure mechanism" on Castillolopez's Swiss Army knife, prevents the blade from moving.
On redirect examination, the prosecutor asked Investigator Gary, "[W]ould you describe this [Swiss Army knife] as a non-locking folding knife?" Investigator Gary began his reply by stating, "I would call this a non-locking fold—, " but stopped, and then stated, "[W]ell, I don't know that, you
know—and I think the way the law is stated—I understand the words, but there is no folding knife that doesn't lock some way because, otherwise, the blade wouldn't be able to stay in place if ...