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Those Deadly Kitchen Knives - CA Court Case Tally

Oct 3, 1998
One of the standard articles of conventional wisdom among us "knife people" is that the standard American "murder and mayhem knife" is a kitchen knife. I haven't seen any published statistics that actually say that, though I've heard it from cops and other folks who are closer to the criminal justice system than I am.

A kitchen knife is, after all, the knife that everybody owns, and is the knife that's readily available when Mr. tells Mrs. to get up and defrost the refrigerator in the middle of the night, and Mrs. tells Mr. that he's been looking funny at some other woman (real case).

I was searching a California legal research site for knife law cases, and I kept bumping into awful stuff, so I decided to try a tally, to the extent that the cases got specific. So I tried pulling up California appellate cases that had "knife" and also one or more of "murder, manslaughter, homicide, or decedent" in the text. I never got a total there, even with separate searches on each appellate district, because the search engine limits out at 100. Hundreds and hundreds of them in the bowels of the California appellate courts' archives from 1934!

Then I tried pulling up cases that had particular sorts of knives in the text, along with "murder, manslaughter, homicide, or decedent." That proved more interesting.

The issues argued in the appeals here were not whether any knife was an illegal weapon or not, or whether or not the appellant actually did it, but things like search and siezure or sanity or jury instructions on self defense, and some really gross and awful death penalty cases on automatic appeal.

And don't go looking for the case that had a chef's knife, a paring knife, and a meat cleaver. Trust me on that one.

When looking at these numbers, remember that the knife was not necessarily the murder weapon or the attempted manslaughter weapon. In some cases it's what the dead person brought to the gun fight. Sometimes it was just something that turned up in a search, or something that the appellant had brandished on some other occasion. Also, there's some duplication here.

And naturally I don't know if crimes that get into published appellate court opinions are representative of crimes that went to the trial courts.

When I searched on "dirk," I came up with 45 hits. Scrolling through them, I found a bunch of attorneys and witnesses named Dirk, and a bunch of references to statutes that said "dirk or dagger" in the text, and only one footnote reference to a "dirk-knife" that had been used in a crime in 1856.

I found 40 cases with "dagger." I scrolled through 20 of them, and about half of those only had references to language in statutes, plus one kid who drew disturbing pictures of daggers. So I'll arbitrarily adjust the tally to 20 cases where there was a knife involved that was described as a "dagger."

There were only 11 cases that involved a "switchblade."

"Bayonet" - 12 cases.

"Machete" - 16 cases.

"Hunting knife" - 38 cases.

"Fishing knife" - only 3 cases.

"Bowie knife" - 1 case, and that was a folder.

"Pocket knife" - 62 cases. Traditional, tactical, megafolder, whatever.

"Pen knife" - 1 sordid case. The "wee pen knife" is the traditional weapon for domestic violence in folk songs from the British Isles.

Now to the kitchen tools . . . .

"Kitchen knife" - 39 cases.

"Butcher knife" - a whopping 87 cases.

"Cleaver" - 33 cases.

"Paring knife" - 11 cases.

"Steak knife" - 19 cases.

"Chef's knife - 2 cases, both of them appeals by the same guy. Yuck.

Total kitchen knives, including cleavers - 191 cases. That's about two thirds of all cases in the California appellate court archives where there was both violence and a specified knife.

And some of those cases . . . .

oh no, and my wife has been using my Military in the kitchen.........

Sorry, grim sense of humor there.