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California Court of Appeal Holds Box Cutter Not ‘Inherently’ Deadly Weapon

by Dale Chappell

A box cutter is a type of knife “designed to cut things and not people,” and was therefore not “inherently” a deadly weapon as a matter of law, the Court of Appeal of California Second Appellate District held, overturning a defendant’s conviction.

There was no question that Yazan Aledamat pulled a box cutter and said, “I’ll kill you,” during an argument. The question later became whether the box cutter was “inherently” a deadly weapon to support his conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, after the jury found him guilty based on the superior court’s instruction on what constitutes a “deadly weapon” as a matter of law. Aledamat appealed his conviction.

A “deadly weapon,” as a matter of law, is defined as an object that is deadly to others in its “ordinary use for which it is designed” or when used in a manner “capable of and likely to produce death.” Because a box cutter is not designed to cut people in its ordinary use, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is “not an inherently dangerous or deadly instrument as a matter of law.” The superior court’s jury instruction was a legal error that prejudiced Aledamat, the Court said. While a jury is “well equipped” to distinguish between valid and erroneous factual questions, it cannot do so with legal questions, the Court explained.

The Court recognized that its decision regarding the rules governing prejudice is “arguably in tension” with recent California Supreme Court decisions, such as where an erroneous jury instruction on the elements of a crime does not require reversal if the evidence of guilt is “overwhelming.” See People v. Merritt, 2 Cal.5th 819 (Cal. 2017). However, other Supreme Court case law cited by the Court of Appeal in deciding this case is “on point” with respect to Aledamat’s case and thus remains binding on the Court. It observed that it is up to the Supreme Court to revisit or reconsider the foregoing case law.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal vacated his conviction for assault with a deadly weapon and remanded to the trial court for “the People to determine whether to retry the defendant….” See: People v. Aledamat, 20 Cal. App. 5th 1149 (2018). 

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Related legal case

People v. Aledamat



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