Is It Fashion or a Dangerous Weapon?

The following is a guest blog post by Harmony Groves Kessler, a solo practitioner assisting individuals, small businesses, and attorneys with legal issues in criminal defense, business contracts/transactions and public agency law in northern California. She is the former Mayor of Arcata, California, where she served a four-year term on the City Council.

knuckles_148225053With fashion accessories adopting weapon-like designs, has the California Penal Code fallen behind the times?

I recently assisted an attorney in clarifying whether the iPhone “Knuckles” case, an iPhone case that has a grip similar to “brass knuckles” and is made of metal, is a dangerous weapon.

The “Knuckles Case” is described as the “ultimate tool for securing phone to hand,” and “Nuckles” calls it a “stylish, handle grip iPhone case—that helps to protect your very expensive iPhone while giving you that luxurious, jeweled rings look.”

It is stylish. After all, Rihanna has one!  Also stylish is the purse by Alexander McQueen—the Knuckle Clutch. The question is, are these fashion accessories weapons under California law?

“Metal knuckles” are defined in Pen C §16920 as

any device or instrument made wholly or partially of metal that is worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand that 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.

The issue comes down to the purpose of the accessory. From a design point of view, the “Knuckles” iPhone case wasn’t created to increase the force of impact from a punch. Traditional brass knuckles have a small handle, allowing the user to wrap his or her entire hand around the knuckles to give a more severe and damaging blow. By contrast, the “Knuckles” iPhone case is about the size of, if not larger than, your iPhone. As Geekosystem.com points out, if you were holding a “Knuckles” case, your hand would be partially open, unable to make a tight fist.

Besides, would someone actually punch another person in the face with an iPhone? We all know how expensive iPhones are and I’m not sure that insurance companies would cover the excuse, “I punched someone in the face with it, and well, it just stopped working.”

Here’s an interesting idea: even if it’s not the purpose of the “Knuckles” iPhone case to strike someone with a more effective and severe blow, it could be a reasonably foreseeable misuse of the product under products liability tort law. The fashion world would cringe to think that the hip new thing they created as an ode to the eighties could lead to liability for foreseeable misuse merely because it’s styled after an old school weapon.

For more on what constitutes a dangerous weapon, check out CEB’s California Criminal Sentencing Enhancements, chap 5.

Other CEB blog posts you may find interesting:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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