Anthony Sculimbrene, Esq.
State of Connecticut v. DeCiccio
315 Conn. 79 (2014)
Decided: December 23, 2014
The right to transport knives as a corollary right to a right of self-defense.
The Defendant lived in Connecticut and was moving to Massachusetts. He was a veteran and had been stationed all over the world. In his travels he collected a variety of weapons. During the move, he packed those weapons into his vehicle and drove them to his new home. On his way, he was involved in a car accident, hit his head and became agitated and disoriented. He was transported to a hospital where he was treated for a head injury and PTSD. The police officer that responded to the accident examined his car prior to towing it and noticed two machetes in plain view. He then conducted a search of the vehicle and discovered a knife he considered to be a dirk knife and a collapsible police baton. The Defendant was charged with possessing weapons banned in Connecticut. He was tried and convicted. He then appealed.
On appeal he made three arguments: 1) the definition of dirk knife and baton in the statute were too vague; 2) that an exception to the possession ban regarding moving was also too vague; and 3) that recent Second Amendment cases gave him the right to possess these items while moving as a corollary right to his right to bear arms and self-defense. The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected both vagueness arguments, but ultimately reversed the conviction on the basis of the Defendant’s Second Amendment rights. They used a three-part test to make this determination. First, they concluded that the dirk knife and baton were “arms” as described in the Second Amendment. Second, they concluded they were neither dangerous or unusual. And finally they held that they the statutory ban hit too close to a core right protected in the Second Amendment and thus did not survive court scrutiny. In the end, they concluded that criminalizing the transporting of these weapons, which could be used in self-defense, impacted the Second Amendment too heavily.
Notes for Knife Owners
This case demonstrates the perils of transporting knives. The knife was discovered in the Defendant’s vehicle despite the fact that he had done nothing wrong. Police have broad rights to search vehicles, even without a warrant, so transporting a knife if your own car can be perilous. While they cannot readily search your house or your person without a warrant or some suspicion of wrongdoing, as this case shows, the police and search your car, in some circumstances, with very little limitation.
- Point 1: Consider shipping knives instead of transporting them. Be sure to check USPS regulations before doing so or ship with a private company like UPS or FEDEX.
- Point 2: Be aware that you have reduced protection from government searches when in a vehicle.
- Point 3: Check your local state laws for bans on specific kinds of weapons. Bans on dirk knives are very common throughout the US.
Notes for Attorneys
Void for vagueness challenges are exceptionally difficult to win, especially when the terms in the statute have a lengthy history and common definition as here. This is an unusual case where a per se ban was overturned directly by Heller and MacDonald. It is also a very good explanation of the three-part test for the Second Amendment. The Court’s explanation of the “ends-means scrutiny” is very clear and useful. This case also shows the power of an expanded view of constitutional rights. Be sure to check if a law has an indirect impact on a protected right. In this case, the Court held that even though not addressed by the Second Amendment, the ban on transporting weapons used in self-defense, is too heavy of an indirect impact and compromises an individual’s right to bear arms and self-defense. Finally, though it was not raised in this case, it was probably worth challenging the search performed here. In many states there are rules for searching cars that are about to be towed. Check for state or local ordinances regarding towing vehicles and ask for police department towing policies in discovery. If the search prior to the tow as pretextual or the tow was improper, you have have grounds to suppress the evidence.
- Point 1: Don’t count on winning a void for vagueness charge in weapons cases.
- Point 2: Familiarize yourself with the three-part inquiry for Heller/MacDonald challenges in weapons cases.
- Point 3: Don’t limit a defense to statutes that directly impact a constitutional right, think of “impacts” on the right that are indirect.
- Point 4: Always check to see if a vehicle was properly searched and in the event of a tow, ask for the towing policy.