(December 27, 2000) – In a legal decision that effectively reverses decades of legal sales of automatic knives in the State of Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has effectively banned the manufacture, sale or possession of automatic or switchblade knives in the state.
The case began in late 2000 with the arrest of a couple selling switchblades at a flea market, reportedly to minors. Police arrested and charged them under Florida Statute 790.225 that makes it illegal to sell or possess ballistic knives. Ballistic knives have a spring that releases a blade that actually separates from the handle and shoots forward.
The trial court judge declared the initial charge under the statute to be unconstitutionally vague and found the defendants not guilty. However, they then fled the country. The state appealed the verdict to the Fourth District Court of Appeal. At that point, the defense attorney abandoned the case since his clients were gone. Arguments presented by the prosecutor were not countered in any way at the appeals level. Here is the abbreviated version of the ruling. For the complete citation, click on State of Florida v. Darynani.
Law enforcement appears to be taking a rather subdued approach to enforcing the new ruling. A Tampa Legal Bulletin, issued by an assistant city attorney on May 11, 2001, urges that “… fairness dictates that officers warn knife merchants of the state of the law prior to taking formal enforcement action.”
STATE of Florida v. DARYNANI
774 So.2d 855
26 Fla. L. Weekly D53 (Cite as: 774 So.2d 855)
District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District.
STATE of Florida, Appellant. v.
Pariya DARYNAN1, Appellee.
Dec. 27, 2000.
Switchblade vendor was charged with violating statute forbidding manufacture, sale, or possession of self- propelled knives. The Circuit Court, Broward County, Ilona M. Holmes, J., found statute forbidding manufacture, sale, or possession of self-propelled knives unconstitutionally vague. State appealed. The District Court of Appeal held that statute forbidding manufacture, sale, or possession of self-propelled knives was not unconstitutionally vague as applied to switchblade vendor.
Reversed and Remanded.
_(Further discussion of legal issues and legislative intent follow. Then the court concludes with its rationale for declaring automatic or switchblade knives to be functionally the same as ballistic knives, therefore now illegal under Florida law. Here is their reasoning…. Ed.)_
“Self-propelled” means, simply, propelled forward by one’s or its own force or momentum. See e.g., Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 2061 (1993). A “projectile” is a projected object that either has capacity for self-propulsion or does not, so long as it is capable of being thrust or hurled forward. See id. at 1813; Webster’s II New College Dictionary 884 (1995).
The Defendant and the trial court tended to focus on these words in isolation from the word “knife.” Doing so led them to the conclusion that the statute must prohibit something that acts like a missile, a knife blade shot completely clear of the rest of the weapon, like a bullet leaves the chamber of a gun. While that may be so, nothing in the definitions of “self-propelled” and “projectile” indicates that these words describe only those types of weapons in which a blade is shot independent from and clear of the rest of weapon.
Moreover, the words “self-propelled” and “projectile” are not used in isolation. The word “projectile” is used to merely explain how the knife’s blade might be propelled, i.e. that it is capable of being thrust or hurled forward, and the remainder of the sentence— “by means of a coil spring, elastic material, or compressed gas” — specifies the manner of propulsion. § 790.225(1). When the statute is read as a whole, the statute imparts to a person of common intelligence and understanding that possessing a switchblade knife would be a crime. It is common knowledge that a switchblade operates on a coil spring or other device that springs the blade out from the handle or casing. Reading the statutory language as a whole, it seems apparent the Legislature intended to distinguish switchblade knives from folding-type knives that require manual and deliberate removal of the knife blade from the handle or casing. Using such terms, then, it seems apparent the Legislature intended to make the possession of switchblade knives, which “propel a knifelike blade as a projectile by means of a coil spring, elastic material, or compressed gas,” illegal while allowing possession of other types of knives or pocketknives. See § 790.225(1).
A person of common intelligence can understand that a switchblade knife is “self-propelled” in the sense that the blade is propelled by means of a coil spring, elastic material, or compressed gas. See id. Accordingly, section 790.225 is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to the Defendant. We reverse the trial court’s order and remand for further proceedings.