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Possession of Prohibited Weapons

Penal Code 16590 (Formerly PC 12020(a))

Information on the crime of possession of prohibited weapons, also called generally prohibited weapons, is found at California penal code section 16590 (formerly PC 12020(a)).

PC 16590 provides a list of weapons that are generally prohibited, which means that to posses a weapon listed below is prohibited unless some legal defense applies, such as possession for sale by an authorized dealer, etc.

The list below is a partial list of the most common generally prohibited weapons charges. Included in the list are "PC Numbers" after the named weapon. The first number is where the definition of that weapon is found in the penal code; the second number, if available, is where information on the maximum sentence can be found for that corresponding weapon.

Most weapons are self-defined; however, we have included the definitions for a dirk or dagger (PC 16140, 20310),  a flechette dart (PC 16570 & 30210), a nunchaku (PC 16940 & 22010), and a shuriken (PC 17200 & 22410), as those weapons are less self-explanatory.

Generally prohibited weapons include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • An air gauge knife (PC 16140 & 20310)
  • A flechette dart projectile (PC 16570 & 30210)
  • A ballistic knife (PC 16220 & 21110)
  • A belt buckle knife (PC 16260 & 20410)
  • A cane gun (PC 16330 & 24410)
  • A cane sword (PC 16340 & 20510)
  • A concealed dirk or dagger (PC 16470 & 21310)
  • A large-capacity magazine (PC 16740 & 32310)
  • Brass metal knuckles (PC 16920 & 21810)
  • A metal replica hand grenade (PC 19200(a))
  • A nunchaku (PC 16940 & 22010)
  • A short-barreled rifle or shotgun (PC 33215)
  • A shuriken [Throwing Star] (PC 17200 & 22410)
  • A zip gun [homemade gun] (PC 17360 & 33600)

Definition of Flechette Dart: A flechette dart is a dart capable of being fired from a firearm, that measures approximately one inch in length, with tail fins that take up approximately five-sixteenths of an inch of the body (PC 16570).

Definition of a Dirk or Dagger: A dirk or dagger means a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death...(PC 16470 & 21310). Note: Switchblade knives are illegal if the blade is longer than two inches (PC 17235).

Definition of a Nunchaku: A nunchaku is an instrument consisting of two or more sticks, clubs, bars, or rods to be used as handles, connected by a rope, cord, wire, or chain, in the design of a weapon used in connection with the practice of a system of self-defense such as karate (PC 16940 & 22010).

Definition of a Shuriken: A shuriken, commonly called a "throwing star," is any instrument without handles, consisting of a metal plate having three or more radiating pints with one or more sharp edges and designed in the shape of a polygon, trefoil, cross, star, diamond, or other geometric shape, for use as a weapon for throwing (PC 17200 & 22410).

In order for the district attorney to prove that the defendant possessed a generaly prohibited weapon, he or she must prove that:

  • The defendant possessed one of the generally prohibited weapons listed above. Possession may be actual or constructive. Constructive possession means that the defendant had the right to control the possession of the weapon, and
  • The defendant knew that he or she possessed the prohibited weapon.

Punishment & Sentence for PC 16590

All generally prohibited weapons listed under PC 16590 may be charged as felonies or as misdemeanors. Whether or not the district attorney files felony or misdemeanor weapons charges depends largely on the egregiousness of the facts and the extent of defendant's criminal history.

Prison & Jail Sentence: When PC 16590 is charged as a felony, the defendant may face a maximum prison sentence of three (3) years. When PC 16590 is charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant may face a maximum jail sentence of one (1) year.

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence, with or without an actual jail sentence, is available for both felony and misdemeanor convictions of generally prohibited weapons charges. Also, split sentences and suspended sentences are available for PC 16590 convictions. Split sentences are sentences that are partially served in custody and partially served out of custody on work release or house arrest (electronic monitoring). Suspended sentences are sentences that may never have to be served as long as all of the conditions of probation are fulfilled. Whether or not a probation sentence, a split sentence, or a suspended sentence.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude: A crime of moral turpitude is a crime that is considered morally wrong. Conviction for crimes of moral turpitude carry special punishments with immigration (for non-U.S. citizens), and professional licensees (i.e. doctors, dentist, lawyers, nurses, etc.). Generally prohibited weapons charges are not considered crimes of moral turpitude, but to be on the safe side for immigration concerns, the record of conviction should be ambiguous as to the type of weapon possessed, especially if the crime involves a firearm such as PC 16590, 24410, 24510, 24610, 33215, and 33600.

Firearm Prohibition: Convictions for felony possession of a generally prohibited weapon carry lifetime bans on ownership or possession of a firearm. Convictions for misdemeanor possession of a generally prohibited weapon carry a ten (10) year restriction on owning or possessing a firearm.

Collateral Punishment for PC 16590

In addition to any sentence (jail, prison, probation, etc.), if the defendant is convicted of the crime of generally prohibited weapons, he or she will be punished with fines, possible restraining orders (criminal protective orders), restitution to victims, harsh probation terms, enhanced penalties for future criminal violations, civil lawsuits, and more.

Common Defenses to PC 16590

Licensed Dealer: A person licensed or legally permitted to posses, for transfer or sale, an otherwise prohibited weapon is not in violation of the law. Permits exists to legally transfer and possess some weapons, including martial arts weapons (nunchaku, shuriken, etc.), firearms (CCW permits), film permits for modified weapons, and more.

Mistake of Fact: A person who is not aware of his or her possession of a generally prohibited weapon is not in violation of the law. For example, if the defendant possess a cane, but does not know that the cane is actually a cane sword, then the defendant is not in violation of the law.

Insufficient Evidence: Insufficient evidence in PC 16590 cases arises when the district attorney does not have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant possessed, actually or constructively, a generally prohibited weapon.

Momentary Possession: Possession of a prohibited weapon for only a fleeting moment is not a violation of the law. For example, if the defendant is handed a nunchaku from a licensed dealer of weapons, while the defendant is considering a purchase of the weapon, then the possession is only momentary, and the defendant is not in violation of the law.

Other common defense to charges of generally prohibited weapons offenses include: statute of limitations, coerced confession as to possession of the weapon, intoxication, insanity, and more.

If you have been charged with possession of generally prohibited weapons, or PC 16590 & 12020(a), contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Call today!


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Prohibited Weapons PC 16590 (full list)

  • 16590(a) An air gauge knife, as prohibited by Section 16140 & 20310.
  • 16590(b) Ammunition that contains or consists of a flechette dart, as prohibited by Section 16570 & 30210.
  • 16590(c) A ballistic knife, as prohibited by Section 16220 & 21110.
  • 16590(d) A belt buckle knife, as prohibited by Section 16260 & 20410.
  • 16590(e) A bullet containing or carrying an explosive agent, as prohibited by Section 16510 & 30210.
  • 16590(f) A camouflaging firearm container, as prohibited by Section 16320 & 24310.
  • 16590(g) A cane gun, as prohibited by Section 16330 & 24410.
  • 16590(h) A cane sword, as prohibited by Section 16340 & 20510.
  • 16590(i) A concealed dirk or dagger, as prohibited by Section 16470 & 21310.
  • 16590(j) A concealed explosive substance, other than fixed ammunition, as prohibited by Section 16510 & 19100.
  • 16590(k) A firearm that is not immediately recognizable as a firearm, as prohibited by Section 24510.
  • 16590(l) A large-capacity magazine, as prohibited by Section 16740 & 32310.
  • 16590(m) A leaded cane or an instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a billy, blackjack, sandbag, sandclub, sap, or slungshot, as prohibited by Section 16760 & 22210.
  • 16590(n) A lipstick case knife, as prohibited by Section 16830 & 20610.
  • 16590(o) Metal knuckles, as prohibited by Section 16920 & 21810.
  • 16590(p) A metal military practice handgrenade or a metal replica handgrenade, as prohibited by Section 19200.
  • 16590(q) A multiburst trigger activator, as prohibited by Section 16930 & 32900.
  • 16590(r) A nunchaku, as prohibited by Section 16940 & 22010.
  • 16590(s) A shobi-zue, as prohibited by Section 17160 & 20710.
  • 16590(t) A short-barreled rifle or short-barreled shotgun, as prohibited by Section 17170 & 33215.
  • 16590(u) A shuriken, as prohibited by Section 17200 & 22410.
  • 16590(v) An unconventional pistol, as prohibited by Section 17270 & 31500.
  • 16590(w) An undetectable firearm, as prohibited by Section 17280 & 24610.
  • 16590(x) A wallet gun, as prohibited by Section 17330 & 24710.
  • 16590(y) A writing pen knife, as prohibited by Section 17350 & 20910.
  • 16590(z) A zip gun, as prohibited by Section 17360 & 33600.

California Possession of Prohibited Weapons Law & Defense PC 16590 & 12020(a)

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