CA Law: Can the State Charge you with Felony Murder for Defending Yourself with Brass Knuckles?

Even if using them to defend yourself?

In Ca, mere possession of brass knuckles is a felony. So, if you strike someone, even in self defense, can you be charged with felony murder?

I ask not for myself because I am male and the system probably wouldn’t believe me anyway. But I have a friend who is 4 10 and weighs about 90lbs and she lives in a rough part of the barrio. I have tried to convince her that nothing good can come from possessing them. Maybe the chance of a 25-life prison sentence might convince her.

You’d have to strike them and kill them, right? For felony murder someone has to be dead.

If California considers possession of brass knuckles to be an “inherently dangerous felony”, then yes, felony murder would apply if the friend kills someone while using the knuckles in self-defense. But “Penal Code section 21810is a “wobbler” – it can be either a felony or a misdemeanor” (Dane, 2010). I don’t think they could consider something to be an inherently dangerous felony, if the crime can also be a misdemeanor simply at the whim of the prosecutor.
IANAL, though.

Yes. I was wondering if it could be felony murder if you used the brass knuckles but solely for defensive purposes; but you managed to get a clean head shot and the aggressor died from bleeding from the brain?

Thank you for the response. It was my understanding that the wobbler status only applied to composite or hard wood knuckles?

What if they aren’t brass knuckles, but are used as brass knuckles?

Like this bottle opener, for instance.

As a juror, I’d have a hard time believing that getting out the brass knuckles and putting them on your hand is not clear evidence of premeditation, which would argue against a self-defense argument.

Aside from the illegality of brass knuckles, how is that different from any other weapon?

If you put that bottle opener on your hand and hit someone with it, the court is going to call it a brass knucks. The law doesn’t actually care about “loopholes” like that.

Doesn’t help that the manufacturer calls them brass knuckles themselves.

Short of the California Supreme Court responding to this thread, we can move this to IMHO rather than General Questions. Let the amateurs roll!

I’d imagine a cop would see them as a weapon…if he was so inclined.

If you use them in self defense, it wouldn’t be murder, would it? The act of defending yourself should be legal, even and up to killing your attacker if the threat supports a violent response. You might be guilty of something else, but I can’t see how it would be felony murder.

IANAL by any stretch, so let’s see if some lawyers can demolish that line of reasoning.

I am also not a lawyer, but I would have a hard time seeing possession of a weapon to be inherently dangerous.

Shooting a gun is inherently dangerous. Setting a fire is inherently dangerous. Wearing brass knuckles? No more inherently dangerous than possessing a gun or matches… until they are used.

Most states exclude criminal assault from the list of felonies that trigger the rule. It has to be a separate felony, whereas a beating just “merges” into the homicide.


This pipe for use with tobacco only!

Correct. But in the case of the OP, the possession of the brass knuckles alone would be the separate felony.

Of course, as I pointed out, in the case of California, brass knuckle possession is not always a felony. In a state where they are always a felony to possess, it is very likely the scenario in the OP would result in felony murder.

There are plenty of examples of case law throughout the country where someone is in felony possession of a firearm, and then accidentally kill a friend or other person. Such as a hunting accident, or a negligent discharge while cleaning it. Since the individual was committing a felony (unlawful possession of a firearm), the death from the accidental discharge results in a felony murder conviction. Usually the unlawful possession is due to the person being a convicted felon. Other times it is due to being unregistered in a city or state which requires registration.

You need to understand the Felony Murder rule to get what the OP is talking about. A person who is engaging in an inherently dangerous felony can be charged with murder if a death results from the felonious act. It doesn’t matter if the death is in self-defense. And it almost always doesn’t matter if someone else actually did the killing. For example, if you rob a bank with your buddy, and the security guard shoots and kills your buddy during the robbery, you can be charged with felony murder even though you didn’t do the killing.
Similarly, if you are in possession of a machinegun that is illegal in your state, and you use that machinegun in self-defense, you can be charged with felony murder. If you accidentally discharge your illegal machinegun into your best friend, you will be charged with felony murder, not negligent homicide or manslaughter.

Good thing IANAL, then, right? This would seem to exactly parallel the case in the OP. I assume there are actual cases like this; it’s not just a hypothetical?

Felony murder in CA is only triggered in the commission of certain felonies, not all felonies. Mere possession of an illegal weapon is not one of those felonies, and therefore the felony murder rule wouldn’t come into play. From the jury instructions:

Section 189that is referred to above says this:

So possession of brass knuckles are not a DD, explosive, WMD, armor piercing ammo, poison, lying in wait, etc. It is also not the other specific crimes listed.

Even if that were not true, a successful defense against a murder charge based on self defense would not be contingent on legally possessing a weapon. The elements of self defense don’t contemplate how the self defense weapon was acquired. A person could be charged with illegal possession independent of the self defense defense.