Of course, many common items could be used as weapons, but that doesn't necessarily make them illegal to own or possess. The prime example is a ball peen hammer. A ball peen hammer could be used to crack the skull of a rival biker, or it could be used to shape metal. If a biker is found with a ball peen hammer and he's charged with some weapons-related offense, he might successfully argue that the hammer isn't a weapon, it's a tool. Hammers have innocent uses (like repairing motorcycles). Bikers figured out this loophole years ago. Today, the ball peen hammer is a symbol that is commonly used to identify "outlaw" motorcycle clubs.
The same logic applies to baseball bats. Obviously, a baseball bat can be used as a brutal weapon. It can also be used to hit baseballs -- an "innocent use". If a baseball player is found with a bat and he is charged with the crime of possessing an illegal club, he should be able to defend himself by arguing that, in this context, his bat is not a "weapon".
The "innocent use" argument is a little more complicated than a lot of people realize, though. In order to raise the defense at trial, the judge must first conclude that the object in question has some innocent use. Think of the ball peen hammer and the baseball bat -- both of these items are commonly used for innocent purposes. If the judge agrees that the item may possibly be used for some lawful activity, then the defendant may argue that his hammer is just a tool, or his bat is just a piece of sporting equipment.
But that's not the end of the story. Just because your object has some innocent use doesn't mean that it's 100% legal to possess it at all times. If the defendant raises the "innocent use" argument, then the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to use the object as a weapon. They may build their case with circumstantial evidence by considering the totality of the circumstances -- when, where and how was the defendant found carrying the item? If the baseball player was arrested while leaving a baseball game and wearing a baseball uniform, then the context of the situation looks pretty innocent. If a baseball player is driving around on a Saturday night with a bat behind the seat of his car, it looks less innocent. If the jury believes that the baseball player intended to use his bat as a weapon, he can still be convicted.
Now, this is the nuance I wanted to explain regarding the "innocent use" defense: if the item is clearly a weapon (brass knuckles, a cane sword, a baseball bat with a nail through it, etc.), the judge will not allow a defendant to argue "innocent use". In that case, the prosecutor does NOT need to prove that the defendant actually intended to use the item as a weapon. Intent is irrelevant. When the item is clearly a weapon, then the DA only needs to prove that the defendant knew that it was capable of use as a weapon.
There is a common misconception that gets a lot of people into trouble here. Many people falsely believe that they have a defense to weapons charges if they simply call some illegal weapon a "paperweight" or a "sculpture". A quick search on Amazon will turn up page after page of brass knuckles mislabeled as "novelty items", "costume jewelry" or "for entertainment purposes only". In California, those are not valid defenses. If an object obviously looks like a set of brass knuckles, the judge will not allow the defendant to argue that they were actually something "innocent". And remember, the DA doesn't even need to prove that the defendant intended to use his brass knuckles as weapons, only that the defendant knew that the item was capable of use as a weapon.
There are many possible defenses to weapons charges. If you or a loved one has questions about possessing weapons in California, call us for a free attorney consultation. (714) 449-3335. Ask for John.
Thanks for reading.
Fullerton Weapons Lawyer