In keeping with California’s strict weapons laws, Penal Code § 21310 PC makes it a crime to carry a concealed dirk or dagger. The offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and is punishable by up to 3 years in jail or prison.
Here are five things to know about PC 21310:
- A dirk or dagger is a knife capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon, the use of which may inflict great bodily injury or death.
- It does not matter whether the instrument has a handguard.
- The category of dirks and daggers excludes most pocket knives unless the blade is locked into position.
- You can legally carry a dirk or dagger in a sheath worn openly, suspended from your waist.
- Common PC 21310 defenses are that your knife was not a dirk or dagger, that you carried it openly, or that the police found it through an illegal search.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. When is it a crime to carry a dirk or dagger?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties for 21310 PC?
- 4. Are there immigration consequences?
- 5. Can I get a conviction expunged?
- 6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
- 7. Are there related offenses?
1. When is it a crime to carry a dirk or dagger?
To prove the charge of Penal Code 21310 PC, the prosecutor must establish the four elements of the crime:
- you carried on your person a dirk or dagger,
- you knew that you were carrying it,
- it was substantially concealed on your person, and also
- you knew that it could readily be used as a stabbing weapon. 1 2
Note that a prosecutor does not have to prove that:
- you used or intended to use
- the dirk or dagger as a weapon.3 4 5 6
1.1. Folding knives/pocket knives are usually legal to carry concealed
Folding knives (other than switchblade knives) are considered a dirk/dagger only if:
- the blade of the knife is exposed, and
- the blade is locked into position.7
Therefore, you can legally carry a concealed pocket knife if it is closed or if the blade cannot be locked.8
1.2. Open carry of dirks and daggers is usually legal
You can also legally carry a dirk or dagger if:
- it is carried in a sheath, and
- it is worn openly, suspended from your waist.9
2. Are there legal defenses?
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have represented literally thousands of people accused of weapons crimes. In our experience fighting PC 21310 allegations, we found the following three defenses to be especially effective in reducing or dropping the criminal charges altogether.
2.1. Your knife was not a dirk or dagger
PC 21310 only applies to concealed dirks and daggers. Further, California criminal law has a technical definition of these knives. This means it is a defense for you to show that:
- while you may have had a concealed knife,
- it does not meet the legal definition of a “dirk” or “dagger.”
Example: Harry never leaves his house in L.A. without a folding knife in his pocket. Since the knife is in the closed position, it does not qualify as a dirk or dagger under 21310 PC. Therefore, he is lawfully allowed to carry it concealed throughout California.
Depending on the case, we can call upon a weapons expert to testify that the knife in your case does not fit the statutory definition of dirk or dagger.
2.2. You were not carrying the dirk or dagger concealed
You are guilty under these laws only if you had a concealed dirk/dagger. Therefore, you can try and overcome a charge by showing that you were lawfully carrying a dirk.
Example: Julie walks around San Diego in possession of a dirkknife in a sheath suspended from her waist belt. Since the sheath is being carried openly and not concealed, Julie is not violating 21310 PC.
Typical evidence we use to show that you were open carrying includes video surveillance footage and eyewitness testimony.
2.3. The police found the weapon through an unlawful search and seizure
Police cannot conduct a search or take property without a valid search warrant (or an exception to the search warrant rule). Therefore if law enforcement authorities obtain evidence from an illegal search and seizure, then the defense can bring a motion to suppress evidence of the illegal weapon. If granted, this may consequently lead to a dismissal of the charges.
Example: A San Francisco police officer sees Tom walking down the street wearing an anti-cop t-shirt. Offended, the officer stops and frisks Tom and finds that Tom is carrying a concealed dagger. If Tom gets charged with violating 21310 PC, Tom could ask the judge to disregard the knife as evidence since the officer had no legal right to stop and frisk him.
3. What are the penalties for 21310 PC?
A violation of these laws is charged as a wobbler offense. Therefore, a prosecutor can charge it as either a:
- misdemeanor, or
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:
- misdemeanor (or summary) probation,
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.10
If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:
- felony (or formal) probation,
- imprisonment in county jail for up to three years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.11
After your arrest, we may be able to contact the D.A. ahead of time to try to persuade them to bring misdemeanor instead of felony charges (or not to bring charges at all if we can show their evidence is lacking).
4. Are there immigration consequences?
In our experience, a conviction under 21310 PC will not have any immigration consequences.
5. Can I get a conviction expunged?
You can get a criminal record expungement following a dirk or dagger conviction.
This is true provided that you successfully complete:
- probation, or
- a jail sentence (whichever is applicable).12
6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
You will lose the right to own or possess a gun if convicted of felony dirk or dagger concealment. A misdemeanor conviction should not affect your gun rights.
7. Are there related offenses?
7.1. Making, selling, or possessing dangerous weapons – PC 16590
California prohibits the possession, sale, manufacture or import of certain weapons. Like PC 21310 violations, crimes involving these weapons are also charged as wobblers.13
7.2. Special restrictions on knives in public buildings and schools – PC 171b and 626.10
Firstly, Penal Code 171b PC makes it a wobbler crime to:
- bring any prohibited knives
- into any state or local public building.
Secondly, Penal Code 626.10a1 PC makes it a wobbler crime to bring any of the following onto a public or private school:
- certain knives (which includes dirks and daggers), and
- ice picks.
7.3. Brandishing a weapon – PC 417
Penal Code 417 PC prohibits drawing, exhibiting, or also using a weapon (including dirks or daggers) in a threatening manner. It is generally a misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail and up to $1,000.
7.4. Carrying a switchblade – PC 21510
It is a California misdemeanor to carry, possess in public, sell, or give away a switchblade. It is punishable by probation, up to $1,000, and up to six months in county jail.
7.5. Assault with a deadly weapon – PC 245(a)(1)
Assault with a deadly weapon (such as a dirk or dagger) can be a misdemeanor or a felony in California, carrying a maximum sentence of up to four years in jail or prison.
- California Penal Code 21310 PC (“Except as provided in Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 17700) of Division 2 of Title 2, any person in this state who carries concealed upon the person any dirk or dagger is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”). See also People v. Mowatt (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 713.
- CALCRIM No. 2501 – Carrying Concealed Explosive or Dirk or Dagger. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also People v. Wharton (1992) 5 Cal.App.4th 72. Also see People v. Brown (1988) 46 Cal.3d 432. See also People v. Dimitrov (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 18. See also People v. Wolfe (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 177.
- See same. See also People v. Rubalcava (2000) 23 Cal.4th 322. See also People v. Fuentes (1976) 64 Cal.App.3d 953. See also
- Same. See also People v. Fannin (Appellate Court, 2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1399. Also see People v. Grubb (1965) 63 Cal.2d 614.
- CALCRIM No. 2501. See also California Penal Code 16470 PC. Also see People v. Sisneros (1997) 57 Cal.App.4th 1454. See also In re Victor B. (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 521. See also People v. Clark (1990) 50 Cal.3d 583.
- Same. See also People v. Medellin (2020) 45 Cal.App.5th 519. Also see People v. Quinonez (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 457.
- Same. See also In re Luke W. (2001) 88 Cal.App.4th 650. Also see In re George W. (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 1208.
- Penal Code 21310. See also California Penal Code 19 PC.
- Same. See also California Penal Code 1170h.
- California Penal Code section 1203.4 PC.
- These prohibited knives include air gauge knives, belt buckle knives, cane swords, undetectable knives, lipstick case knives, shobi-zues, and also writing pen knives.