Penal Code 20910 PC - Writing Pen Knives Law in California
California law maintains an extensive list of weapons banned in the state per Penal Code 16590 PC. These include various firearms, brass knuckles, nunchucks, and certain weapons that can be disguised as ordinary objects.
Among these banned weapons are writing pen knives (WPKs) under Penal Code 20910 PC. If you are charged with making, selling, giving, transporting, or possessing a WPK, you could face as much as three years in prison if convicted.
Writing pen knives are a type of bladed weapon resembling a writing pen. Many of them are designed with an outer pen shell, but the pen's inner workings are removed, and a knife is placed inside the body.
Some people use writing pen knives to carry concealed blades. This is illegal in California, as any knife made to look like a writing pen is considered a knife.
Penal Code 20910 says, “except as provided in Chapter 1, commencing with Section 17700 of Division 2 of Title 2, anyone who manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, or possesses any writing pen knife can be punished by up to one year in a county or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”
Put simply, under this state law; it's a crime to make or manufacture a writing pen knife, import one into California, possess one, or give away or sell one.
Writing pen knives is also illegal under California Penal Code 16590, the statute on generally prohibited weapons. This law lists numerous prohibited items, such as brass knuckles, belt buckles knives, cane swords, nunchucks, and stun guns. Let's review this state-level law further below.
What the Law Says
Penal Code 20910 PC makes it a misdemeanor offense to manufacture, or cause to be manufactured, import into California, sell, give, lend, keep for sale, or even possess a writing pen knife.
For purposes of the law, a writing pen knife is defined under Penal Code 17350 PC as “a device that appears to be a writing pen but has concealed within it a pointed, metallic shaft that is designed to be a stabbing instrument which is exposed by mechanical action or gravity which locks into place when extended or the pointed, metallic shaft is exposed by the removal of the cap or cover on the device.”
Also, under the law, “possess” means more than just having the weapon on your person. It can also describe any situation in which the WPK is under your control and which you can access. For example, keeping it stored in a drawer in your home.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Jerry lives in another state. He drives across the border into California with a WPK in his pocket.
Regardless of whether the knife is legal in his home state, he has violated PC 20910 by “importing” the WPK across state lines.
EXAMPLE 2: Debbie is a sophomore in college and wants to keep a weapon in her purse “for protection.” Through a mutual friend, she meets Guy, who makes writing pen knives, and buys one from him.
Both Guy and Debbie can be prosecuted under PC 20910—Debbie for possessing a WPK and Guy for making and selling it to her.
EXAMPLE 3: Dan asks his friend Andrew to store a supply of WPKs in a hidden compartment in his garage for sale at a future date in return for a cut of the profits. Andrew agrees. Dan and Andrew can be charged with violating California's writing pen knife law.
What Are the Exceptions to the Law?
Under California law, specific individuals are legally exempt from prosecution under PC 20910. These include, but are not limited to:
- Law enforcement officials and agencies;
- Authorized/licensed antique dealers who deal in such devices;
- Someone using the WPK as a prop in the production of a film/TV show;
- Museums and historical societies if the piece is properly and safely housed.
What Are the Penalties for PC 20910?
Making, selling, importing, or possessing a WPK is a wobbler offense in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case.
- If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum penalties are up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000;
- If charged as a felony, you could face up to 3 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In either case, the judge has the latitude to reduce the penalty to summary probation for a misdemeanor or formal probation for a felony as an alternative to incarceration.
What Are the Common Defenses?
Violating PC 20910 is a potentially serious offense, but there are still some defense strategies that a good attorney can use to combat the charges. These potential defenses are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that the weapon was not a WPK. If the knife does not match the definition of a writing pen knife, for example, if it was a legal pocket knife, you cannot be convicted under PC 20910.
Perhaps we can argue that you were not in control (possession) of the weapon. If you did not personally possess or have control over the WPK. For example, if it belonged to someone else and was stored in your home without your knowledge, you may have a valid defense to the charges.
Perhaps we can argue that you qualify for one of the exemptions from prosecution. For example, you can show that you are an authorized antique dealer or possess a weapon for a film shoot.
Perhaps you can claim “justifiable possession.” If you can demonstrate, for example, that you took the WPK from someone who might have used it against you or someone else and that you possessed the weapon just long enough to surrender it to law enforcement, you are exempt from prosecution.
Perhaps we can argue that there was an unreasonable search and seizure covered under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We could get the case reduced or dismissed if there was an unlawful search.
Contact the California criminal defense attorneys at Eisner Gorin LLP to review the details and options if you need legal representation. You can reach us by phone or fill out the contact form.