California Penal Code Section 12020(a) - Case law

Penal Code Section 12020 states, in pertinent part: "(a) Any person in this state who does any of the following is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison: (1) Manufactures or ... possesses any ... instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, slungshot, billy, sandclub, sap, or sandbag." In People v. Grubb (1965) 63 Cal.2d 614, the California Supreme Court recognized that this statute was worded broadly to include both "the classic instruments of violence" (id. at p. 620) that were "specially created or manufactured for criminal purposes" and ordinarily harmless objects. (Id. at p. 621.) In order to preserve the constitutionality of the statute, the court interpreted section 12020 as prohibiting the possession of objects falling into the latter category only when "the time, place, destination of the possessor, the alteration of the object from standard form, and other relevant facts indicated that the possessor would use the object for a dangerous, not harmless purpose. " (Grubb, supra, 63 Cal.2d at pp. 620-621.) The burden rests on the defendant, however, to show that possession of the weapon was for an innocent purpose. (Id. at p. 621.) In People v. King (2006) 38 Cal.4th 617, the court found that a violation of Penal Code section 12020, subdivision (a) requires a culpable mental state. (King, supra, 38 Cal.4th at pp. 624-625.) King reaffirmed the holding in Grubb that a defendant may be able to prove an innocent use of a weapon, but the burden is on the defendant to show possession was for an innocent purpose. (King, supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 424.) King noted that some objects with lawful uses, such as a baseball bat, could nevertheless be prohibited depending on the defendant's mental state and the intended use of the object. (Id. at pp. 625-627.) The baseball bat James was carrying was not a weapon per se but an instrument with ordinary uses. Thus, the prosecution had to prove that James possessed it as a weapon. James initially told the officer that he possessed the bat to play baseball or softball, but later admitted that he did not have any other gear to play ball and that he obtained the bat from a friend for self-defense. This was substantial evidence of James's culpable mental state. (King, supra, 38 Cal.4th at pp. 624-625.) In People v. Fannin (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1399 (Fannin), the Court of Appeal of the First Appellate District considered whether a bicycle lock on a chain was a "slungshot" within the scope of section 12020, subdivision (a). The court recognized that a bicycle lock and chain were not a weapon in themselves, but could be "an instrument with ordinary innocent uses ...." (People v. Fannin, supra, 91 Cal.App.4th at p. 1404.) As a result, Fannin held that "Intent to use a weapon is not an element of the crime of weapon possession. 'Proof of possession alone is sufficient.' However, if the object is not a weapon per se, but an instrument with ordinary uses, the prosecution must prove that the object was possessed as a weapon. The only way to meet that burden is by evidence 'indicating that the possessor would use the object for a dangerous, not harmless, purpose.' (Grubb, supra, 63 Cal.2d at pp. 620-621, italics added.)" (Fannin, supra, 91 Cal.App.4th at p. 1404.) The Fannin court explained that the evidence presented may be circumstantial and could be rebutted by the defendant with evidence of innocent usage. (Fannin, supra, 91 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1404-1406.) In Fannin, the prosecution's burden of showing that the chain and padlock was a weapon proscribed by section 12020 was met by the defendant's statement that he was carrying the chain and padlock for self-defense. (Fannin, supra, 91 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1405-1406.) In Grubb, the burden was met by the defendant's possession of a 20-inch broken bat with a taped handle and the defendant's statements that he carried the modified bat for protection and had used it on two prior occasions to strike someone. (Grubb, supra, 63 Cal.2d at pp. 617, 621.) In re Robert L. (1980) 112 Cal.App.3d 401 (Robert L.) involved a defendant who, when asked by an officer why he had a concealed ice pick in his possession, replied, "'You know why I carry it. It is for protection.'" (Id. at p. 405, italics added.) In affirming the defendant's conviction for violating section 12022, subdivision (a) the court stated, "Nothing further was necessary to show the instrument though 'conceived for peaceful purposes, ... was wrapped in the indicia and circumstance of probable assault.' " (Robert L., supra, 112 Cal.App.3d at p. 405, citing Grubb.)