Civil Rights Groups Urge the Calif. Supreme Court to Affirm Legality of Common Pocketknives

A legal brief urging the California Supreme Court to rule that common, non-locking Swiss Army knives and similar pocketknives are not illegal ‘dirks’ or ‘daggers’ was filed Monday afternoon, the Knife Rights Foundation reports.

George M. Lee, a partner at the San Francisco law firm of Seiler Epstein Ziegler & Applegate LLP, wrote the “friend of the court” brief in the criminal matter of State of California v. Emmanuel Castillolopez on behalf of the civil rights organizations Knife Rights Foundation and Second Amendment Foundation.

The case stems from a dispute over section 16470 of the California Penal Code, which defines a dirk or dagger as “a knife or other instrument….that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death.” But, for everyday pocketknives like the one at issue in Castillolopez, the definition applies “only if the blade of the knife is exposed and locked into position.”

Castillolopez was convicted in 2012 by a San Diego County jury for illegally carrying a concealed dirk or dagger after law enforcement found a Swiss Army knife with the blade folded open in his pocket following a traffic stop. But the Fourth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal later overturned his conviction, holding that Castillolopez’ pocketknife didn’t meet the statutory definition of an illegally-carried ‘dirk’ or ‘dagger’ because it didn’t have a locking mechanism.

“For simply having a common, everyday Swiss Army multi-tool with the blade open in his pocket, Mr. Castillolopez was charged, prosecuted, and convicted of a very serious crime,” explained Lee. “We strongly believe that the Court of Appeal correctly held that the State’s arguments are wrong on the law and hope the Supreme Court similarly disposes of the matter in its forthcoming decision.”

“Ultimately, our important brief is about protecting knife owners from prosecutorial overreach by maintaining the historical definition of a ‘dirk’ or ‘dagger’ in California,” said Doug Ritter, the founder and chairman of the Knife Rights Foundation.

“If the State wins this case with their expansive definition of a ‘dirk’ or ‘dagger,’ every Boy Scout and pocketknife owner in California might one day be guilty of a felony. We aren’t going to let the government run over the rights of knife owners in this or any other case.”

Second Amendment Foundation founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb agreed, saying that he hoped the high court would keep owners of regular, non-locking pocketknives from being subjected to felony criminal liability.

However, he was quick to clarify that, “in order to secure the rights of law-abiding people, sometimes we have to take a strong position on a law’s application, even when the person at issue in a given case isn’t ideal.”

According to Ritter, The Calguns Foundation and Firearms Policy Coalition contributed assistance to the brief’s preparation.

A copy of the filed brief can be viewed or downloaded at