A dirk or dagger is defined as a knife or other instrument, with or without a handguard, capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon, the use of which may inflict great bodily injury or death. The definition excludes most pocket knives unless the blade is locked into position.
Examples of dirks and daggers
- stiletto knives, and
- pocket knives with their blades locked into position.
The text of 21310 PC states that “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.”
Examples of violations of this section
- carrying a dagger in a backpack
- going to a concert with a dirk hidden inside a boot
- walking with a dagger in a purse
There are a number of legal defenses a defendant can assert. For example, common defenses include:
- there was no dirk or dagger,
- the knife was not concealed, and/or
- the search and seizure was unlawful
A violation of this code section is a wobbler offense. Therefore, a prosecutor can charge it as either a:
- misdemeanor, or
A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to one year.
Meanwhile, a felony conviction is punishable by custody in state prison for up to three years.
In lieu of jail time, a judge can award either:
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight 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 a person 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:
- the defendant carried on his person a dirk or dagger,
- the defendant knew that he was carrying it,
- it was substantially concealed on the defendant’s person, and also
- the defendant knew that it could readily be used as a stabbing weapon. 1 2
Note that a prosecutor does not have to prove that:
- the defendant used or intended to use
- the dirk or dagger as a weapon.3
Also note that the fourth element above is a question of fact. Therefore, a judge or jury will decide it based on all of the facts of a case.4
However, questions often arise under this statute on the meaning of “dirk” and “dagger.”
1.1. Definition of dirk and dagger
21310 PC defines a dirk or dagger (sometimes called a dirk knife) as a:
- knife or other instrument,
- with or without a handguard,
- that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon, and
- can inﬂict great bodily injury or death.5
“Great bodily injury” means signiﬁcant or substantial physical injury.6
Note that 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, a person can legally carry a concealed pocketknife if it is closed or if the blade cannot be locked.8
A person can also legally carry a dirk or dagger if:
- it is carried in a sheath, and
- it is worn openly, suspended from a person’s waist.9
2. Are there legal defenses?
Defense attorneys employ a number of legal strategies in a 21310 PC case to raise a reasonable doubt. Three common defenses are:
- no dirk or dagger,
- not concealed weapon, and/or
- unlawful search and seizure.
Note that it is not a defense to criminal charges if the defendant carried the concealed knife for self-defense.
2.1. No dirk or dagger
This section 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 the accused to show that:
- while he 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.
2.2. Not concealed weapon
Recall that an accused is only guilty under these laws if he had a concealed dirk/dagger. Therefore, a defendant can try and overcome a charge by showing that he was lawfully carrying a dirk.
Example: Julie walks around San Diego in possession of a dirk knife in a sheath suspended from her waist belt. A concerned pedestrian points out Julie to a police officer. But when the police officer sees that the sheath is being carried openly and not concealed, the officer explains to the pedestrian that Julie is not violating 21310 PC.
2.3. 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
4. Are there immigration consequences?
A conviction under 21310 PC will not have any immigration consequences.
5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
A person can get a criminal record expungement following a dirk or dagger conviction.
This is true provided that the defendant successfully completes:
- probation, or
- a jail sentence (whichever is applicable).
In sum, an expungement means a defendant is released from many of the hardships caused by a conviction.12
6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?
An accused will lose rights to own or possess a gun if convicted of felony dirk or dagger concealment.
7. Are there related offenses?
In sum, there are three crimes related to carrying a concealed dirk or dagger. These are:
- other prohibited knives,
- special restrictions on knives in public buildings and schools – PC 171b and 626.10,
- brandishing a weapon – PC 417.
7.1. Other prohibited knives
California prohibits the possession, sale, manufacture or import of the following knives
- air gauge knives,
- belt buckle knives,
- cane swords,
- undetectable knives,
- lipstick case knives,
- shobi-zues, and also
- writing pen knives.
Like PC 21310 violations, crimes involving the above knives are also charged as wobblers.
7.2. Special restrictions on knives in public buildings and schools – PC 171b and 626.10
Firstly, Penal Code 171b PC makes it a crime for a person to:
- bring any prohibited knives
- into any state or local public building.
Secondly, Penal Code 626.10a1 PC makes it illegal to bring any of the following onto a public or private school:
- certain knives, and
- ice picks.
Note that “certain knives” include dirks and daggers.
7.3. Brandishing a weapon – PC 417
Penal Code 417 PC prohibits drawing, exhibiting, or also using a weapon in a threatening manner.
Note that if a person brandishes a concealed dirk or dagger, he can be charged under both:
- PC 21310, and
- PC 417.
For additional help…
In conclusion, for additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We also have law offices in Los Angeles, Torrance, Riverside, Long Beach, Pomona, Highland, and throughout the state.
For information on knife laws in Nevada and Colorado, also please see our articles on:
- California Penal Code 21310 PC. 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, 268 Cal.Rptr. 399.
- 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.