Penal Code 16470| Dirks and Daggers


California Penal Code 16470 on Dirks and Daggers

California’s laws on dirks and daggers can be confusing and complicated–I should know, I’m a criminal defense attorney here in the state. In this article, I want to break down Penal Code 16470 in simple terms so regular folks like you and me can understand it. I’ll also talk about some real cases I’ve seen to show how these laws play out in the real world.

What is a dirk or dagger?

First, let’s define what a “dirk or dagger” even is according to California law. Here’s the legal definition from Penal Code 16470:

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.

That’s a mouthful! Let me break it down–a dirk or dagger can be:

  • Any kind of knife
  • With or without a handguard
  • Used for stabbing (not just slicing)
  • Can cause really serious injury or death

So things like switchblades, stilettos, and push daggers would fall into this category. Even something as simple as a sharpened screwdriver could be a dirk or dagger if you carried it around as a weapon.

Now, folding pocket knives and utility knives are also capable of stabbing someone. But the law says they are only dirks/daggers if:

  1. The blade locks into place and
  2. The blade is exposed (opened).

So if you have a folding knife in your pocket and it’s closed, that’s perfectly legal. If you open it but the blade doesn’t lock, also legal. It’s only illegal if you open it and lock it–then it becomes a concealed dirk or dagger.

Real Cases

Let me give some examples of real dirk and dagger cases I’ve seen to show how this works:

Case 1: The Switchblade

I once defended a client who was arrested for having a switchblade in his car. Switchblades are specifically banned in California, even just for possession. So in this case it didn’t matter if my client carried it openly or concealed–just having it at all was illegal.

We still challenged the search of his car, because the cops didn’t have a good reason to search in the first place. But the switchblade itself was clearly an illegal dirk/dagger. My client ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and getting probation.

Case 2: The Hunting Knife

Another client of mine was arrested when police found a 6-inch hunting knife concealed under his jacket. He used the knife for hunting trips but forgot it was there when he went into town. Even though he didn’t intend to use it as a weapon, it was still concealed and qualified as a dirk/dagger.

We argued he wasn’t “carrying” it because he didn’t know it was there. But the DA said ignorance isn’t a defense. My client did some community service and took a weapons safety class to resolve the charges.

Case 3: The Faulty Folding Knife

A third client had a folding pocket knife in her purse. Normally this would be legal, but the blade on her knife was broken–it wouldn’t close all the way. This meant the blade was in the “open and locked” position, making it a concealed dirk or dagger.

We got the charges dropped by proving the knife wasn’t working properly. My client got it fixed so the blade would close again. The DA agreed that she didn’t intend to carry an illegal weapon once she saw the malfunction.


As you can see from those examples, there are some defenses that can work in dirk and dagger cases:

  • You didn’t know the weapon was there
  • The weapon was obtained illegally by police
  • The weapon was broken or malfunctioning
  • You used the weapon legally for hunting/fishing

A good criminal defense lawyer can look at the specifics of your case and decide if any of these defenses apply. I’ve had many cases dismissed once we could show the weapon wasn’t concealed, wasn’t dangerous as carried, or my client didn’t know about it.


If you are convicted of carrying an illegal dirk or dagger, you could face:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail if charged as a misdemeanor
  • Up to 3 years in state prison if charged as a felony
  • Fines up to $1,000 for a misdemeanor or $10,000 for a felony

Prosecutors have discretion whether to file misdemeanor or felony charges. Factors like your criminal history and the circumstances of the offense come into play. Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help get misdemeanor charges in many cases.

The Bottom Line

I know these California laws on dirks and daggers can be complex. I see the confusion first-hand from my clients who get arrested. My advice is this:

  • Don’t carry stabbing weapons like switchblades or stilettos unless you have a lawful purpose like hunting or fishing
  • Make sure folding knives are closed and not exposed
  • If arrested, don’t say anything to police and call a defense lawyer immediately

With an experienced attorney fighting your case, we can often get dirk and dagger charges reduced or dismissed. Don’t leave your freedom up to chance–call my office today for a free case evaluation.


[1] California Penal Code § 16470 – Justia Law

[2] California Penal Code 16470 PC – Dirks and Daggers – Shouse Law

[3] What Is a Dirk or Dagger under Penal Code § 16470? – Greg Hill & Associates

[4] “Dirk” or “dagger” defined, Cal. Pen. Code § 16470 | Casetext Search + Citator

[5] California Code, Penal Code – PEN § 16470 – Codes – FindLaw

[6] California Dirk or Dagger Laws – PC 21310 – Wallin & Klarich