Massachusetts laws are often written in colorful or archaic language. One such example concerns the offense of “Carrying a Dangerous Weapon” (M.G.L. ch. 269 §10).

Subsection (b) of this law deals with non-firearm weapons, and begins by enumerating a long list of weapons that are inherently dangerous, including a:

“stiletto, dagger or a device or case which enables a knife with a locking blade to be drawn at a locked position, any ballistic knife . . . dirk knife, any knife having a double-edged blade, or a switch knife . . . or a slung shot, blowgun, blackjack, metallic knuckles or knuckles of any substance which could be put to the same use with the same or similar effect as metallic knuckles, nunchaku, zoobow, also known as klackers or kung fu sticks, or any similar weapon consisting of two sticks of wood, plastic or metal connected at one end by a length of rope, chain, wire or leather, a shuriken or any similar pointed starlike object intended to injure a person when thrown . . . or a manrikigusari or similar length of chain having weighted ends”

This interesting list (klackers anyone?) lays out the weapons that, if found on the arrestee, are prohibited per se, as their dangerousness is self evident.

That begs the question… what if someone is arrested while carrying a weapon NOT on the list? The law accounts for that by outlining penalties for those who are arrested “armed with a . . . dangerous weapon other than those herein mentioned.” The key phrase of this provision is “dangerous weapon.” When a word or phrase, in this case “dangerous weapon,” is not explicitly defined by law, the courts construe it according to its common law definition, which is based on customary usage and prior court interpretation.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court tackled the “dangerous weapon” question in Commonwealth v. Turner, 59 Mass App. Ct. 825 (2003). In that case, an individual was arrested on a warrant, found with a folding knife in his back pants pocket, and charged with Carrying a Dangerous Weapon. At the time of the arrest, the defendant was not alleged to have been using or brandishing the knife; it was folded and in his back pocket.

The court broke down the term “dangerous weapon” into two subsets: (1) those that are inherently dangerous and (2) those that are “dangerous as used.”

Inherently dangerous weapons, are those that are “designed and constructed to produce death or great bodily harm.” This definition, in essence, serves as a catch-all for such weapons that, while not specified in the above list, are to be treated as if they were.

Weapons that are “dangerous as used,” was defined to encompass items that “become dangerous weapons because they are used in a dangerous fashion.” As an example, think of a large plumber’s wrench. The wrench itself is not designed to produce death or bodily harm, but it could certainly be used to that effect. If a plumber was arrested while using the wrench for its intended purpose, he ought not be charged with carrying a dangerous weapon. However, if this plumber was instead swinging the wrench around in a threatening manner, he could be.

In Turner, the court held that a folding knife, closed and secured in the individual’s back pocket, was not “dangerous as used” because the defendant did not use item in a manner “capable of causing serious harm or even the apprehension of serious harm.”

Long story short, while the charge of Carrying a Dangerous Weapon may initially appear hard to beat if a weapon is recovered pursuant to arrest, there are avenues available to mount a robust defense. Every case is unique and turns on the underlying facts and circumstances. Careful analysis of the facts and law is what skilled lawyers do, and I am happy to be of service.