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Is a knife a dangerous weapon under Utah criminal law?

There are certain items that will almost always be considered "weapons" under Utah law - guns, hand grenades, etc. There are other items that are not normally considered to be weapons, but that can be used as a weapon - shovels, baseball bats, pocket knives, etc. This second group of items can be the subject of some debate in determining whether the item will be considered a "weapon" in Utah.

The Utah Supreme Court, in the case of Salt Lake City v. Miles (2014 UT 47), set forth the test for determining whether an item such as a pocket knife should be considered to be a weapon. While the analysis is still very fact-specific, this case sets forth guidance in determining whether an item should be considered a weapon under Utah law.

If you are facing weapons-related criminal charges in Utah, it is vital to have the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Based in Salt Lake City, Stephen Howard has defended violent felony and misdemeanor cases ranging from aggravated murder to domestic violence assault, as well as weapons-related cases including possession of a concealed dangerous weapon, possession of a weapon by a restricted person, and more. Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation.

Salt Lake City v. Miles, 2014 UT 47 - Knives as Dangerous Weapons in Utah

The Utah Supreme Court case of Salt Lake City v. Miles focused on the charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person. For purposes of the appellate case, it was not contested that the defendant was a restricted person. The key issue on appeal was whether the pocket knife found in the possession of the defendant, was a "dangerous weapon" under Utah law.

The evidence presented at trial included evidence that the defendant had made verbal threats to kill someone with a knife. Police were contacted, and ultimately arrested the defendant. During the course of their interactions with the defendant, police searched the defendant, finding "nothing of significance" on his person. Police subsequently searched a grocery cart in the possession of the defendant. Police found a knife inside the pocket of a jacket (not being worn by the defendant) that was located in the cart. The knife blade was approximately 3-inches long. Based on the threats made by the defendant, prosecutor's argued that the knife should be considered a "dangerous weapon" under the restricted person statute.

The appeal had originally been heard in the Utah Court of Appeals. That court had held that the determination of whether a pocket knife is a weapon can include an analysis of the actual use (or non-use) of the item by the defendant, as well as any "intended use" for the item. Because the defendant had threatened to use a knife to kill someone, the Court of Appeals determined that defendant intended to use the knife as a weapon, and that the knife therefore could properly be considered to be a dangerous weapon.

The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the Court of Appeals decision, determining that the definition of "dangerous weapon" in the Utah criminal code does not allow the "intended" use of an item if the item is not normally considered to be a weapon and is not actually used as a weapon. The evidence in the case did not show the defendant using the knife in any way. The defendant did not waive the knife in the air, brandish the knife, or display the knife in any way. The defendant did not even touch the knife. Thus, because it could not be said that the knife was actually "used" in any way, the court held that under the circumstances of the case, the knife should not be considered to be a dangerous weapon.

Disclaimer - The Supreme Court issued its opinion in 2014, based on the specific statutory language that existed at the time. The Utah Legislature can, and does, make frequent changes to statutes to meet perceived public needs. It is not uncommon for the legislature to amend a statute that has been interpreted by the courts in a manner adverse to prosecution interests. The information provided on this website is intended to be used for informational and advertising purposes only. It is possible that the law has changed since the time this page was originally published. If you have questions regarding weapons law in Utah, you should consult with a qualified attorney.

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Lawyer in Salt Lake City

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard has defended clients facing charges including aggravated murder, weapons charges, drug charges, theft, DUI, and many more. His track record includes not guilty verdicts and dismissals on some of the most serious charges on the books in Utah

If you are facing prosecution for a crime in Utah, it is vital to have the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer. Contact us today to arrange for an initial consultation with Utah criminal lawyer Stephen Howard.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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