Possessing brass knuckles in Pennsylvania can lead to a prison sentence. That’s because a set of brass knuckles is considered a prohibited offensive weapon that does not have any purpose other than to hurt people. While brass knuckles are usually illegal in Pennsylvania, there are a few specific situations in which a person found with them can raise a defense to the misdemeanor crime.
Prohibited Offensive Weapons in Pennsylvania
The answer to whether brass knuckles are legal in Pennsylvania can be found in the state’s Consolidated Statute Title 18 Section 908. Under Title 18 Section 908, titled “Prohibited offensive weapons,” it is a misdemeanor crime for a person to use, possess, sell, make repairs to or otherwise deal in any offensive weapon. The list of what is considered an offensive weapon includes metal knuckles. Since brass is a type of metal, brass knuckles are prohibited in Pennsylvania.
Besides metal knuckles, other things considered offensive weapons include bombs, grenades, machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, firearms, blackjacks, sandbags, daggers, knives, razors, stun guns, stun batons and tasers. The statute also includes a catch-all provision in which any “implement for the infliction of serious bodily injury which serves no common lawful purpose” is considered an offensive weapon.
Defenses to the Prohibited Offensive Weapons Law
While Pennsylvania’s statue includes metal knuckles in its list of prohibited offensive weapons, a person who is caught with brass knuckles in Pennsylvania can still raise a defense. Title 18 Section 908 states that it is a defense to the misdemeanor crime if a person can prove, with convincing evidence, that he possessed or dealt with the weapon only as a curio or in the course of a dramatic performance. This means that someone who collects brass knuckles as a hobby or who has brass knuckles in his possession because he is playing a role in a theatrical or film production may have a defense.
Another defense to the crime is if the person can prove, again with convincing evidence, that she possessed the offensive weapon only briefly as a result of having found it or taken it away from an aggressor. For example, a person may argue that she found the brass knuckles lying on the street and was on her way to take them to the police. Another situation that would give rise to a defense is if a person was confronted by an aggressor who had brass knuckles in his possession and she was able to take them away from him.
Pennsylvania’s statute also includes a catch-all defense. It states that it is a defense if a person can prove that she possessed or dealt with the prohibited offensive weapon without any intent or likelihood that it would be used unlawfully. This means that it may be a defense if a person can prove that he had brass knuckles for a lawful purpose and not to cause serious bodily injury.
Failed Defense to Having Brass Knuckles
In 2016, what the Pennsylvania courts would consider a lawful purpose for having brass knuckles was clarified. A year prior, Christopher Bonson was convicted and sentenced to a nine- to 18-month prison sentence for having brass knuckles despite his defense that he was going to use the knuckles as a belt buckle. He appealed his conviction, but it was upheld by a state superior court panel in 2016. They again rejected Bonson’s explanation that he had the brass knuckles in his pocket because his belt broke that day, and he was going to use the knuckles on a new belt after throwing away the old one.
Judge Victor P. Stabile wrote in the state court opinion that the: “record is devoid of evidence that metal knuckles are commonly used as belt buckles.” Furthermore, the judge concluded that brass knuckles have no commonly recognized legitimate legal purpose and are thus certainly illegal in Pennsylvania. With the state’s superior court decision, a precedent was set that brass knuckles are illegal in Pennsylvania as they have no purpose other than to cause physical harm to others.
Karen graduated from Southwestern Law School in 2003 with a Juris Doctor degree. She has worked for several law firms, providing legal services in various fields including immigration, housing, bankruptcy and family law.