Superior Court Holds That Switchblades Are Not Protected By The Second Amendment

Yesterday, in a very short non-precedential opinion, a three judge panel of the Superior Court held in Commonwealth v. William Battle that a switchblade is not protected by the Second Amendment.

As discussed in the decision, there is no dispute that upon entering the Pike County Administrative Building, Mr. Battle emptied his pockets, including a switchbade knife, at the metal detectors and was thereafter arrested. The sole issue that he raised on appeal was: “Whether the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, in prohibiting the possession of automatic knives, violates the right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution?” Interestingly, it does not appear that an argument was raised in relation to Article 1, Section 21, although I cannot honestly state that I believe the outcome would have been any different.

In the 5 page decision, for which the U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent Second Amendment holding Caetano v. Massachusetts is not mentioned (and causes me to wonder whether Mr. Battle’s public defender addressed it- UPDATE: Battle’s attorney Jason Ohliger confirmed below in the comments that he did raise it and it was central to his argument), the Superior Court declares that “Appellant’s reliance on Heller is misplaced, as offensive weapons are not covered by the constitutional right to bear arms.”

In what can only be described as a twisted form of logic to support its conclusion, the court states that since switchblades “are not possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” they are considered dangerous and unusual weapons. Thus, by the mere fact that the General Assembly declared them unlawful – thereby preventing individuals from lawfully possessing switchblades – the court contends that switchblades are not possessed by law-abiding individuals. Does that make your head hurt? Cause it does mine.

In essence, if the court’s logic was correct, then D.C.’s ban that was struck down in Heller as unconstitutional, should have been declared constitutional, since it was unlawful for any law-abiding individual to possess an operable firearm in his/her home in D.C. Also lost on the court is the fact that only 15 states ban switchblades, with the remaining finding that they do have a common lawful purpose. Unfortunately, I doubt this was brought to the court’s attention. UPDATE: Contrary to my assumption, Battle’s attorney Jason Ohliger confirmed below in the comments that he reviewed which states permit vs. which states do not permit switchblades.

The only saving grace is that this decision was a non-precedential decision by a three judge panel. Pursuant to the Superior Court’s Internal Operating Procedure 65.37:

An unpublished memorandum decision shall not be relied upon or cited by a Court or a party in any other action or proceeding, except that such a memorandum decision may be relied upon or cited (1) when it is relevant under the doctrine of law of the case, res judicata, or collateral estoppel, and (2) when the memorandum is relevant to a criminal action or proceeding because it recites issues raised and reasons for a decision affecting the same defendant in a prior action or proceeding. When an unpublished memorandum is relied upon pursuant to this rule, a copy of the memorandum must be furnished to the other party to the Court.

If you have been charged with carrying a switchblade, contact us today to discuss your legal options.

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7 Comments

Filed under Constitutional Law, Firearms Law, Pennsylvania Firearms Law, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Superior Court Holds That Switchblades Are Not Protected By The Second Amendment

  1. Jason Ohliger

    I am the attorney who handled Mr. Battle’s jury trial and appeal. Thank you for your commentary on this decision. With regard to your questions about issues raised during the appeal, Caetano v. Mass was the focal argument in both the trial court and on appeal.

    The Caetano decision had not yet been issued at the time of the jury trial, and argument at that point was premised solely upon Heller. I did argue the Caetano decision on a post-trial Motion for Judgment of Acquittal only about 1 week after that decision was rendered by SCOTUS. So, I believe that I was fairly on top of the developing law.

    In addition, my appellate brief was thorough on the issue of the breakdown of states which permit vs. outlaw switchblades. In other words, just because the Court left it out doesn’t mean that it wasn’t in.

    If you have further questions regarding the quality or thoroughness of the efforts in handling Mr. Battle’s assigned case as a public defender, please direct them to my email at jasonohliger@gmail.com and I will respond accordingly.

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    • Jason,

      First, thanks for taking the time to post your comment. I’ve updated the article accordingly and reflecting my incorrect assumptions.

      Second, given the decision, will you be filing a motion for reconsideration and re-argument en banc?

      Lastly, if you’re willing to share your brief and any reply brief that you filed, I’m sure the readers would greatly appreciate the read. I’ll be more than happy to host/post them. Also, if you have any statement you’d like to make about the case, let me know and I’ll be happy to update the article.

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  2. Jason Ohliger

    Thank you. I will forward my brief next week with permission that you may post.

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  3. I guess those judges have never had to open a knife with one hand, while your other hand is bound up in a rope, its possible now with the single handed spring assists.

    Same thing with having a sleeve or hair caught in machinery, the difference an auto knife provides, may be the seconds it takes to stop a limb from being ripped out, or your head pulled into a rotating shaft.

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  4. Charles H. ("Pete") Cox III

    To follow up on Mr. Frickanisce’s comment: We are discussing here 18 Pa. C. S. Sec. 908(c) “Prohibited Offensive Weapons,” correct? The statute seems clear in enumerating certain “weapons” but it becomes confused in the final phrase, “or other implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose.” Mr. Frickanise is absolutely correct in identifying common lawful purposes (other uses might include parachutists who need to free themselves from entanglements and certain amputees). As the statute is written the term “common lawful purpose” would seem to control whether the weapon in quo is offensive under the statute.

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  5. Ironically, it can be argued that once Spyderco developed opening a knife with the hole in the blade switchblades are obsolete anyway.

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  6. William R Clapie

    What exactly is considered to be a switchblade? I constantly carry multi-tools and an “assisted open” knife. It has a trigger and a spring. Could it be considered a “switch-blade” for legal purposes? If so, must I give up a TOOL that I have used for quite some time for wiring, box cutting, seam marking etc?
    thanks.
    bill.

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