Butterfly Knives

 Posted on June 16, 2007 in Uncategorized

How many legs does a dog have, if you call a tail a leg?

"Switchblade knife" is defined by section 46.01 of the Texas Penal Code as "any knife that has a blade that folds, closes, or retracts into the handle or sheath, and that: (A) opens automatically by pressure applied to a button or other device located on the handle; or (B) opens or releases a blade from the handle or sheath by the force of gravity or by the application of centrifugal force."

The consensus among criminal-defense lawyers was that a butterfly knife opens by the application of centrifugal force. There are two Texas centrifugal-force knife cases, both from Houston's First Court of Appeals and both "unpublished" opinions. The older of the two, Smith v. State, No. 01-87-830-CR, concerned a butterfly knife; according to the court, "Ample testimony of the knife's functioning revealed that the knife could open by centrifugal force after being unlocked." There was no mention of any testimony to the contrary.

I am looking for one of these cases to try.

Here is a New York case saying that a butterfly knife doesn't have "a blade that is released by the application of centrifugal force." Here is an Oregon knife expert who will so testify. But neither of these resources addresses what I think is the definitive defense in a Texas butterfly knife case:

There's no such thing as centrifugal force.

It wouldn't be hard, and could be very entertaining, to parade any number of experts from the local university through the courtroom to explain that centrifugal force is an illusion.

This invites us to ask: does the legislature's inclusion of it in the statute constitute a legislative finding that it does exist? No. If you call a tail a leg, a dog still has only four legs.

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