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  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

Know Your Rights: What Size Knife Is Legal to Carry in California?

A knife may seem like a common tool or a weapon to protect oneself in a dangerous situation. However, without knowledge of the law, an individual may find themselves in serious trouble carrying one. The regulations regarding possessing a knife in California can be complex, and violating them can result in jail time, fines, or both.


Criminal defense attorneys at Goss Law have extensive experience providing relevant guidance on state laws. They understand the consequences of violating the California Penal Code and the available defenses to reduce or eliminate charges. In this article, they will review the necessary knife laws, restrictions on carrying them in public, and the legal defenses available to the accused. They have more information on what guns are illegal in California.


California Knife Laws: Legality of Knives in California

California Knife Laws: Legality of Knives in California


Under California knife laws, there are three different types of knives, including the following:


Knives People Can Wear But Can Not Conceal


A dirk or dagger is a fixed blade knife that may or may not have a handguard, is ready to use as a stabbing weapon, and can cause serious bodily harm or death. California law permits individuals to carry dirks and daggers in public as long as they're in a sheath that is worn suspended from the waist.


Apart from dirks and daggers, there are other knives that one can carry in public but cannot conceal, such as stilettos, ice picks, bowie knives, scissors, chef's knives, and other fixed blade knives.


However, California Penal Code 21310 makes it illegal to carry concealed dirks and daggers, including tucking them into one's waistband, hiding them in other clothing, or holding it in a purse or a container. This crime can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the circumstances.


The punishment for a misdemeanor for concealing a dirk or dagger is a maximum fine of $1,000, county jail imprisonment of up to one year, or both. If convicted of a felony, individuals may face fines of up to $10,000, maximum county jail imprisonment of three years, or both.


Knives That People Can Wear or Conceal


It is legal to carry all folding knives without any restrictions on whether to wear them in a sheath or conceal them. However, the individual holding the weapon must keep the folding knife folded or in a closed position at all times.


Some examples of foldable knives that are permissible to carry under California law include Swiss army knives, box cutters, pocket knives, and utility knives. California's knife laws do not place any restrictions on the blade length of folding knives.


Under Penal Code Section 17235, a folding knife loses its legal status if it is open or in a locked position. When this happens, a folding knife becomes a dirk or dagger, and the person must keep it in a sheath which they have to wear suspended from their waist.


Illegal Knives


There are some knives that are entirely illegal to manufacture, buy, sell, or import in California, and these include:

  • Ballistic knives: Penal Code 21110 defines a ballistic knife as a spring-loaded blade that can be fired like a bullet. It is illegal to possess, own, buy, sell, manufacture, or import these types of knives in California as they fall under "generally prohibited weapons."

  • Belt buckle knives: These knives are an integral part of one's belt buckle, and the blade is typically 2 inches long. California Penal Code 20410 makes it illegal to carry a belt buckle knife, and it also falls under PC 16590, or generally prohibited weapons.

  • Lipstick case knives: These knives come enclosed in a lipstick case and are illegal under Penal Code 20610. It is a wobbler offense with either charge punishable by fines, jail time, or both.

  • Cane knives: This type of knife looks like an ordinary cane but has a concealed knife or sword, making it a highly dangerous weapon. They're not only prohibited under Penal Code 20510 but also 16590 PC.

  • Shobi-zues: The Penal Code 20710 makes the possession, ownership, buying, or selling of shobi-zues illegal in the state. A shobi-zue is a stick or a pole with a knife or a sharp blade inside it that one can reveal through a flick of the wrist or a mechanical action.

  • Air gauge knives: Resembling an air gauge, these types of knives have a sharp blade concealed inside them. Under California Penal Code 20310, possessing, buying, selling, manufacturing, or importing air gauge knives is illegal in the state.

  • Writing pen knives: These are devices that look like a pen but have a knife concealed in them. Under California Penal Code 20910, pen knives have a pointed metallic shaft that one can use as a stabbing instrument, making them an illegal weapon.

  • Switchblades: A switchblade is any pocket knife that has a blade at least 2 inches long and flips open with a press of a button or through another mechanism. Under this definition, butterfly or fan blades also fall within this category of knives. It is illegal to carry a switchblade under California Penal Code 21510.

  • Undetectable knives: The state's Penal Code 20810 makes it unlawful to carry undetectable knives or knives made from materials undetectable by metal detectors.

Do California's Knife Laws Place Any Restrictions on Carrying Knives in Public?


The law places certain restrictions on carrying knives in specific spaces, including the following:


Public Buildings


Under Penal Code 171b, individuals cannot carry a switchblade knife, a fixed blade knife with a blade length of 4 inches or more, or any other illegal knife inside a state or local public building or a meeting open to the public.


Violation of 171b PC is a wobbler offense and is punishable by up to three years in state prison.


School Grounds


Dirks and daggers, knives with a blade length of 2.5 inches or longer, folding knives with fixed blades, and ice picks are some of the knives that individuals cannot bring onto school grounds, including colleges and universities.


Under Penal Code 626.10a1, anyone who brings a prohibited knife to an educational institution may face up to three years in state prison.


Federal Property


It is a crime under 15 USC 1241-44 to bring a switchblade knife onto federal property, Indian lands, or areas under federal jurisdiction. However, members of the armed forces on duty can carry switchblades. Any violation of the law can result in up to five years in prison.


What Size Knife Is Legal to Carry in California?


California knife laws impose restrictions on blade length for certain types of knives. Switchblades with a blade length of 2 inches or longer cannot be carried in California, while fixed blade knives with a blade length of 2.5 inches or longer are illegal on school grounds. Public buildings also have a blade length restriction of 4 inches or longer.


Apart from the above-mentioned restrictions, there are no laws that regulate the maximum length of knives in California. However, it's worth noting that local rules may vary for specific localities. In Los Angeles, for example, carrying any knife with a blade longer than 3 inches is illegal.


California Laws Against Using a Knife As a Weapon


There are three crucial state laws that make it a crime for an individual to use their knife as a weapon, and these include the following:


Brandishing a Weapon


To brandish a knife means to take out a knife and wave it rudely, angrily, or threateningly.

Under California Penal Code 417, brandishing a knife is a misdemeanor offense and is punishable by up to a year in county prison or, in some cases, three years in jail.


Assault with a Deadly Weapon


An assault with a deadly weapon is a crime whereby a person assaults another individual using a deadly weapon or force that is likely to cause great bodily injury.


Under Penal Code 245a1(i), knives fall under the category of a deadly weapon, and it is a felony to commit an assault with any knife. Anyone convicted of the crime must face up to four years in state prison.


Use of a Dangerous Weapon


Penal Code 12022 states that a person will face enhanced jail sentencing if they committed a felony and used a knife to commit the crime. The consequences of their actions could result in up to an additional year in jail on top of the sentencing they receive for their crime.


Can a Person Defend Themselves with a Pocket Knife in California?


Carrying pocket knives is legal in California as long as the blade is in a folded or closed-up position. Under state law, individuals have the right to self-defense or defend another individual in a situation involving an imminent threat.


By reasonably assessing the situation, if the individual believes there is a need for a necessary use of force to deflect danger, they can use their pocketknife.


It is important to note that victims may only use reasonably necessary force, meaning that in some cases, simply taking out their pocketknife without stabbing can be enough to deflect danger.


What Are the Legal Defenses for the Accused?

What Are the Legal Defenses for the Accused?


When accused of violating the state's penal code, it is essential to reach out for legal help. Skilled criminal defense attorneys at Goss Law have extensive experience handling criminal defense cases and a deep understanding of state and local laws.


They can investigate the case and determine the type of legal defenses to use, including the following:


Unlawful Search and Seizure


Without a valid search warrant, law enforcement officers do not have the right to search for a knife or seize one. In cases where the police do not have a warrant, they must have a legal excuse.


However, failure to have a legal excuse or obtaining a knife without a warrant is a serious form of police misconduct and a violation of the defendant's rights.


When that happens, the Sacramento criminal defense lawyer can have the evidence excluded from the criminal case to reduce or completely dismiss the charges levied against the defendant accused.


The Knife Was Not Illegal


Although California knife laws make it illegal to carry certain types of knives, it is crucial to understand that they have a precise legal definition. Depending on the facts surrounding the case, the defense attorneys can prove that the accused did not have an illegal knife as it did not fall under the legal definition.


A switchblade, for instance, looks like a pocket knife with a blade length of 2 inches or longer. An attorney can argue that the defendant had a knife with a blade length of just under 2 inches to help them avoid a conviction.


The Accused Was Unaware


Under the criminal justice system, the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor, and they must prove that the defendant knew that they were carrying a prohibited knife and they were clearly aware of the characteristics of the weapon.


On the other hand, the defendant's attorney can provide evidence that the accused was unaware that the knife they were carrying was illegal. If a defendant purchases a shobi-zue (an illegal knife) from an antique store, the attorney can argue that they did not have an idea that the blade they purchased was unlawful under state law.


An experienced criminal defense attorney can use many different legal defenses to protect the defendant's rights. Depending on the circumstances of the case, they can fight for reduced charges or remove all the charges levied against the accused. It is crucial for those facing illegal knife charges to reach out to skilled criminal defense attorneys for legal help.


Schedule a Free Consultation with a Caring Sacramento Criminal Defense Lawyer


Possessing an illegal knife can lead to jail time, hefty fines, or both, depending on the facts of the case. It is important to seek legal help from a reputable law firm. Goss Law can also answer questions like "How much marijuana is legal to carry around in California?"


Those arrested for a knife crime in Sacramento, California, must immediately contact (916) 999-7689 for a free consultation with experienced criminal defense lawyers at Goss Law to discuss their case and learn more about their rights.

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