Penal Code 4502 PC – Weapons in California Penal Institutions

Penal Code 4502 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to possess or manufacture certain weapons in a penal institution. A violation of this section is a felony. The offense can lead to confinement in state prison for up to four years.

4502 PC states that “every person who, while at or confined in any penal institution, while being conveyed to or from any penal institution, or while under the custody of officials…possesses or has…custody or control [of] any instrument or weapon…is guilty of a felony…”.

Examples

  • possessing a pistol in a county jail
  • making a dirk or dagger (a "shank") while in a prison forestry camp
  • hiding an explosive substance under a prison uniform

Defenses

A person accused of this crime can assert a legal defense. Common defenses include:

  • the weapon belonged to another inmate,
  • someone planted the weapon, and/or
  • the defendant had a weapon because he/she was using it in self-defense.

Penalties

A violation of this statute is charged as a felony. This is opposed to a misdemeanor or an infraction.

The crime is punishable by:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

men exchanging a gun in jail, a potential violation of Penal Code 4502 PC
Penal Code 4502 PC makes it a crime for a person to possess or make certain weapons in a penal institution.

1. Is it a crime to have a weapon in a California jail or prison?

A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a defendant under these laws:

  1. the defendant was at, in, or being taken to/from a penal institution,
  2. the accused possessed or manufactured a weapon,
  3. the accused knew he/she possessed or manufactured it,1 and
  4. the defendant knew that the object was a weapon.2

A “weapon” under this statute includes things like a:

  • blackjack,
  • slungshot,
  • billy,
  • sandclub,
  • sandbag,
  • metal knuckles,
  • any explosive substance,
  • fixed ammunition,
  • dirk or dagger or sharp instrument,
  • pistol,
  • revolver,
  • firearm, or
  • tear gas weapon.3

Note that an accused does not have to actually hold or touch something to possess it. It is enough if the person has control over it.4

For purposes of this section, a “penal institution” means:

  • the state prison,
  • a prison road camp,
  • a prison forestry camp,
  • a county jail, or
  • a county road camp.5

2. Is it possible to beat a charge of 4502 PC?

Defense attorneys use different strategies to defend against charges under this code section. These strategies include showing that:

  1. the weapon that was found belonged to another inmate.
  2. someone planted the weapon.
  3. the defendant had the weapon because he/she was using it in self-defense.

2.1. Another inmate's weapon

An accused is only guilty under this statute if he or she possessed or made a weapon. A defendant cannot be punished under these laws for someone else's wrongdoing. This means it is a defense for an accused to say that any weapon belonged to another inmate.

2.2. The weapon was planted

Sometimes inmates or prison officials may plant a weapon to frame someone of a crime. An accused can always raise this as a defense. It is effective since it shows that the accused did not know he/she had a weapon.

2.3. Self-defense

It is a defense for an accused to say that he/she had a weapon for purposes of self-defense.6 This defense only works if the accused had a weapon and:

  • believed that he/she was in “imminent danger,”
  • believed that force was necessary to stop the danger, and
  • used an appropriate level of force in defense.
man in jail being led to a cell
Possession of a weapon in a penal institution is punishable by prison time.

3. Will a conviction add additional prison time?

A violation of these laws is charged as a felony.

The possession of a weapon in a penal institution is punishable by:

  • custody in state prison for up to four years, or
  • felony (or formal) probation.7

The manufacture of a weapon in a penal institution is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in state prison for up to three years, or
  • felony (or formal) probation.8

4. Are there similar crimes involving inmate contraband?

There are three crimes related to the possession or manufacture of a weapon. These are:

  1. bringing drugs into a jail or prison – PC 4573,
  2. bringing “contraband” into a jail or prison – PC 4573.5, and
  3. carrying a concealed dirk or dagger – PC 21310.

4.1. Bringing drugs into a jail or prison – PC 4573

Penal Code 4573 PC is the statute that makes it a crime for a person to bring drugs into:

  • a jail, or
  • a state prison.

“Drugs" include substances that are regulated by the government under the United States "Controlled Substances Act."

4.2. Bringing “contraband” into a jail or prison – PC 4573.5

Penal Code 4573.5 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to:

  1. bring “contraband” into a jail or state prison, and
  2. do so knowingly.

“Contraband” includes:

  • alcohol, and
  • any drugs, other than controlled substances.

4.3. Carrying a concealed dirk or dagger – PC 21310

Penal Code 21310 PC makes it a crime for a person to carry a concealed dirk or dagger.

A “dirk or dagger” is defined as:

  • a knife or other instrument,
  • with or without a handguard,
  • that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon, and
  • which may inflict great bodily injury or death.

This definition excludes most pocketknives unless the blade is locked into position.

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Legal References:

  1. As to the knowledge requirement, see People v. Rubalcava (2000) 23 Cal.4th 322.

  2. CALCRIM No. 2745 - Possession or Manufacture of a Weapon in Penal Institution. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). Note that California 4502a PC pertains to the possession of a weapon and Penal Code 4502b PC pertains to the manufacture of a weapon.

  3. California Penal Code 4502a and 4502b PC.

  4. CALCRIM No. 2745 - Possession or Manufacture of a Weapon in Penal Institution. See also Lucero v. Holland (2018) 902 F.3d 979.

  5. California Penal Code 4502c PC.

  6. People v. Saavedra (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 561.

  7. California Penal Code 4502a PC.

  8. California Penal Code 4502b PC.

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