Is that a wallet or are you going to hit me?
August 31, 2006
The Guadalupe Police Department approached a group of juveniles who had been threatening passers by. While patting down young Martin Alonzo, the officer noted Alonzo had a wallet in his back pocket that was attached to a belt loop by a metal chain. (I always judge chains fastened to pants as the sign of a loser, but that’s just me.)
Alonzo’s “wallet” was about 5-1/2 inches long. Metal spikes were embedded in the leather along one edge, so that the spikes would fit between his fingers and would protrude when he closed his hand around the wallet in a fist.
Alonzo’s wallet had nothing in it ” no money, no cards, no photographs, not even drugs or stolen keys.
Alonzo was charged with possession of “metal knuckles,” which in my school were called “brass knuckles.” At Grant High in Sacramento they were not that uncommon.
I was never cool enough to carry around brass knuckles, but my distant friends did.
They also had “rubbers” in their wallets, which was also impressive, but that’s another story.
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A metal knuckle under the law is “any device or instrument made wholly or partially of metal which is worn for purposes of offense or defense in or on the hand and which either protects the wearer’s hand while striking a blow or increases the force of impact from the blow or injury to the individual receiving the blow … it may consist of projections or studs which would contact the individual receiving the blow.”
Alonzo argued he had no idea his wallet could be used as a weapon. Right. Maybe it was a wallet-comb combo, Alonzo.
Alonzo’s clever lawyer argued the prosecution had to prove he intended to use his wallet in a violent manner. The mere possession of an unusual wallet was not a crime.
The prosecutor argued that carrying an object like a dirk or dagger, or in this case a “wallet,” that could be used for fighting was sufficient to prove the crime of possession of metal knuckles. No intent to use the object in a violent manner was necessary.
Fortunately the court of appeal agreed, determining that Alonzo knew he had an object that was fitted with metal spikes that conveniently protruded between his fingers when the wallet is held in a closed fist. He knew it could be used for purposes of offense or defense per the code.
Hopefully Alonzo is now in prison making license plates and wallets for 10 cents an hour.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter· Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm’s Web site http://www.portersimon.com