Penal Code 17235 | Definition of a Switchblade

Penal Code 17235 | Definition of a Switchblade

What exactly is a switchblade knife? Well, according to California Penal Code 17235, a switchblade knife means a knife that looks like a pocketknife and includes a spring-blade knife, snap-blade knife, gravity knife, or any other similar type knife where the blade is 2 inches or longer and can be released automatically by pressing a button, flipping your wrist, or some other mechanical device.

Basically, if you can press a button or flick your wrist and a knife blade pops out–that’s a switchblade. The law is pretty broad and includes any knife that works this way. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a normal pocket knife on the outside–if it’s spring loaded so the blade shoots out when you press something, it counts as a switchblade.

There are a couple exceptions though. Switchblades don’t include knives that you can open with one hand by just using your thumb. Like if there’s a thumb stud or disk on the blade that you can push on to swing the blade open. As long as you have to overcome some resistance or mechanism that holds the blade in place, those are still legal.

Why Are Switchblades Illegal in California?

Switchblades have been banned in California since the 1950s. The reason is that they were seen as dangerous weapons associated with gang violence. The spring-loaded mechanism allows the blade to be quickly deployed with one hand, which lawmakers feared could make them easy to use as offensive weapons.

Most other states also prohibit switchblades for similar reasons. They are considered dangerous concealed weapons and too easy to use impulsively compared to pocket knives. However, some states like New Hampshire and Arizona have repealed switchblade bans in recent years, arguing that they are outdated laws.

Penalties for Possessing a Switchblade

In California, it’s generally a misdemeanor to possess, sell, manufacture, import or lend a switchblade knife. The maximum penalties are:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

However, if you have a previous conviction for a knife-related offense, it can be charged as a felony. Felony possession of a switchblade can result in:

  • 16 months to 3 years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

Other circumstances can also lead prosecutors to charge it as a felony, like if you had intent to use it as a weapon, were engaged in gang activity, or resisted arrest.

Legal Defenses

If you’ve been accused of illegally possessing a switchblade, some legal defenses to fight the charges include:

  • You didn’t knowingly possess the knife – For example, someone left it in your car without your knowledge.
  • The knife doesn’t meet the legal definition of a switchblade – It may not open in the prohibited ways.
  • You have a valid use exemption – Such as for work, film production, or as part of a collection.
  • The search violated your rights – If police searched you or your property illegally, any evidence found may be inadmissible.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate the details of your case and advise you on the best defense strategies.

Related Offenses

There are a number of other laws restricting knives and weapons in California. Some of the most common related offenses include:

  • Dirks or daggers – It’s illegal to carry concealed dirks or daggers under Penal Code 21310.
  • Knives on school grounds – Bringing any knife with a blade over 2.5 inches onto school property violates Penal Code 626.10.
  • Assault with a deadly weapon – Using a knife during an assault can lead to additional charges under Penal Code 245.
  • Possession of brass knuckles – Carrying brass knuckles is prohibited under Penal Code 21810.

The circumstances surrounding the possession and use of the prohibited weapon heavily determine what charges you may face.

What To Do If You’re Charged With This Offense

Being charged with possessing a switchblade knife can have severe consequences for your freedom, finances, and criminal record. Don’t take chances by handling the case yourself.

Get experienced legal help on your side immediately. An attorney can advise you on all of your options and build the strongest defense to have the charges reduced or dismissed. Don’t leave your future up to chance.