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California Penal Code 171b - Weapons in Public Buildings

Carrying restricted weapons into public buildings is against the law. These kinds of allegations are considered wobblers. This means you can face either a misdemeanor or felony consequences. A conviction on your criminal record can negatively impact your gun rights, immigration status, employment goals, academic pursuits, and housing opportunities.

Maintaining control of your future should be paramount when facing this offense. Finding the right criminal defense attorney could make all the difference.

Let’s take a closer look at how California defines this law and the potential long-term consequences a conviction can carry.

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Defining Weapons in Public Buildings

California outlines bringing unauthorized weapons into public buildings under Penal Code 171b. It states that it is a crime to possess and/or bring certain knives or restricted weapons into a local or state public building and/or meetings that are open to the public.

What weapons are covered under PC 171b?

Certain or restricted weapons that fall under this statute are:

  • Any type of firearms such as a handgun or rifle,
  • Similar projectile weapons like BB guns, pellet guns, paintball guns, or weapons that operate using air pressure, CO2 pressure, spot-marker guns, or spring-action weapons,
  • Tasers or stun guns, regardless of power level,
  • Tear gas weapons, and
  • Certain knives with blade lengths of four inches or longer.
    • Dirks, daggers, and prohibited knives can be included if length requirements are met.

What buildings are included in this law?

A building that is leased or owned by the local or state government is considered a public building and is covered under this statute. Municipal buildings include courthouses, city hall, town hall, sheriff’s offices, or the mayor’s office. Essentially, any local or state government-owned or government-operated facilities in which public officials are performing their regular duties.

Open meetings to the public, whether they are held inside or outside are covered as well. This includes events such as town hall meetings, community meetings, and city council meetings.

Who can carry weapons on public property?

There are people who are excluded from this statute and are authorized to carry weapons onto public property. However, these people have permission to carry such items on them while performing their duties - police officers, federal agents, individuals with a legal license to carry a firearm, and members of building security who are approved to carry a weapon.

Other instances where a firearm or restricted weapon is permissible in a public building are when they are considered evidence. This means they can be transferred, carried, or reasonably displayed in court proceedings.

Closely Related Offenses

There are several associated offenses that someone could face in addition to PC 171b. The list below shows just some of these similar offenses. 

California Penal Code 626.10(a)(1) - certain knives in public or private schools;

This law prohibits carrying or possessing certain knives while on public or private school, college, or university grounds.

California Penal Code 25400 - carrying a concealed weapon;

You commit this crime by possessing or carrying a concealed firearm.

California Penal Code 21310 - carrying a concealed dirk or dagger;

This law prohibits the possession of a concealed dirk, dagger, or similar instrument that can be used to stab another person, resulting in serious bodily injury or death.

California Penal Code 417 - brandishing a weapon or firearm;

It is a crime to show, brandish, exhibit, or draw a firearm or other deadly weapon in an intimidating or rude manner.

California Penal Code 18710 - possession of destructive devices; 

The possession of explosive devices, bombs, rockets, rocket-projectiles, projectiles with explosive or ignitable material, grenades, or any similar destructive device is a crime.

California Penal Code 21510 - possession of a switchblade;

This law makes it a crime to possess, carry, sell, offer, or lend a switchblade.

California Penal Code 29800 - felon with a firearm;

It is a crime to possess, carry, acquire, or purchase a firearm if you are a convicted felon or if you have an outstanding felony warrant.

What The Prosecution Must Do

The best thing to do is avoid bringing any weapon, firearm or item resembling such an object when entering any public building or attending a meeting open to the public. That said, California takes the safety of the public and public officials seriously. This means the prosecution will work diligently to build a case against you and fight hard to get a conviction for PC 171b. However, only if they can prove the facts of the case. These factors are referred to as the elements of the crime, which are:

  • You were in possession of or carrying any of the following weapons and/or firearms -
    • Pistol, handgun, or rifle such as a 9mm, a shotgun, or an automatic rifle;
    • BB guns, pellet guns, paintball guns, or weapons that operate using air pressure, CO2 pressure, spot-marker guns, or spring-action weapons,
    • Tasers or stun guns,
    • Tear gas weapons,
    • Certain knives with blade lengths of four inches or longer. AND
  • You were on the property of a public building, entered a public building, or attended a meeting open to the public.
    • This includes courthouses, city hall, town hall, and city council meetings.

Who Can Be Charged

For a deeper understanding of what situations can lead to charges for PC 171b, take a look at the examples below.

Example 1:

Micheal was upset that his antique dagger collection was stolen months ago and the police were no closer to finding the perpetrator. He entered the mayor’s office and pulled out a twin-dagger set as an example of the ones that were stolen while submitting verbal complaints about the lack of progress in his case.

Penal Code 171b prohibits carrying weapons such as dirks, daggers, and certain prohibited knives in public buildings. Micheal could be charged with this offense.

Example 2:

Edna appeared in traffic court to contest a speeding ticket. When she opened her purse to remove her wallet a clerk noticed her stun gun. When confronted, she claimed it was an accident and she never intended on using it.

Edna could still face charges for PC 171b. The fact that she forgot she was in possession of the weapon is not considered a valid defense. You can be charged with this offense regardless of whether you ever intended on using the weapon.

Example 3:

Simon is facing charges for PC 417, brandishing a weapon. He appears to his first court hearing with a six-inch hunting knife strapped to his thigh.

If convicted of PC 417, Simon will not only face those penalties but he will also face separate punishments for bringing an unauthorized knife into a courthouse under PC 171b.

Example 4:

Benjamin needed to get his fingerprints done for a new job. The most convenient place to get them done was at city hall. He neglected to remove his taser from the holster on his hip when he entered the building. The taser was not noticed until his number was called by the clerk. She spotted it and quickly reported him.

He could face charges for PC 171b, even though Benjamin did not intend to use the weapon, nor did he intentionally mean to carry it into a public building. Forgetting that you are carrying an unauthorized weapon does not bar you from being charged with this offense.

Legal Defense

Attempting to face this offense or any related crimes without trusted legal representation can be extremely challenging. Having the help of an excellent criminal defense attorney will affect the outcome of your case. With a strong legal defense, you may receive lighter punishments as opposed to the maximum penalties.

The following are just a few of the common legal defenses that have been used to fight against weapons in public buildings, PC 171b charges.

Did you possess an unlawful weapon?

There are instances where people face allegations for violating PC 171b even though the weapon in question is not specifically listed under this law. You should not face charges for violating bringing unauthorized weapons into a public building if the object is not part of the list.

For instance, Jorge forgot to leave his box knife at home. It was in his back pocket. He carried it on him to a town hall meeting. As he sat down, the knife fell from his pocket and the blade, only half-an-inch long accidentally ejected. Any weapon that even resembles an item listed under PC 171b will be scrutinized. He was escorted out of the meeting and charged.

The handle of it was metal and gave the illusion that the razor blade was longer. Although the razor blade was extended into a fixed position, Jorge did not purposely display or expose the blade himself as many people witnessed it fall from his pocket. Jorge would not be guilty of PC 171b. Fortunately, Jorge’s criminal defense lawyer was able to prove that the box knife was not considered a prohibited item. Because the blade was less than four inches in length and not listed as an unauthorized knife or weapon, the charges were dismissed.

Was it a false accusation?

It is not unheard of for law enforcement or public officials to get overly concerned anytime there is a weapon they consider threatening in their presence. Excitement can also run high, depending on the public building you are in or the public meeting you are attending. As mentioned above, any item resembling a weapon can get you unwanted legal attention. Such oversights can land you facing false accusations.

For example, Dale was attending a town hall meeting regarding expanding funding for the community clinic and hospitals. He often carried his cane but forgot it at home. Luckily, he left several of his older canes in his trunk. He picked a cane with a top that looked like the handle of a Victorian sword. When he walked into the meeting, he was instantly stopped and was falsely accused of carrying a cane sword under PC 20510 in addition to bringing a weapon into a public building, PC 171b.

In this case, there was an initial panic that prevented his accusers from listening to his explanation. The cane was easily proven to be a simple cane and there are no restrictions against using a walking aid when attending public meetings. Dale is not guilty and would not face either offense.

Were you forced to possess a weapon and carry it onto public property or into a public building?

If someone was forced or coerced into possessing an unauthorized weapon and bringing it into a public building, they should not face charges for PC 171b.

Lacy, for example, did not support a new city ordinance proposal and wanted to voice her opinion at the next town hall meeting. Many community leaders admired Lacy and took her advice seriously. Fred did not want any opposition to his new proposal and threatened her with violence if she failed to comply with his orders. He forced her into carrying a mini-handgun into the meeting. He told her to stay silent otherwise he would have her husband and sons beaten and report her on for possession. Lacy tripped on her way into the meeting and the gun accidentally fired when her purse hit the ground. It did not injure anyone but she was arrested and charged with PC 171b and PC 25400, carrying a concealed weapon.

Regardless of what special circumstances surround your case, you should not be found guilty of PC 171b or any other similar offense if you only committed the act under threat. Lacy felt Fred’s threats were real and that her family was in danger of being violently attacked. Fred would be guilty of multiple counts for criminal threats under PC 422. Not only did he threaten to assault her immediate family members but he was also still technically in control of the unlawful gun. Even though he transferred the weapon to Lacy’s purse, his threats were enough to control her actions and get her to unwillingly comply. 

Penalties for Carrying Weapons in Public Buildings

This offense is a wobbler, which means if convicted of PC 171b you could face:

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year in county jail.

Felony;

16 months, 2, or 3 years in state prison.

Enhanced Penalties

Increased sentencing and fines could be applied if:

  • Any associated offenses were committed in addition to PC 171b,
  • If there were aggravating factors,
  • If you attempted to use the said weapons, or
  • If any person was assaulted, hurt, or injured as a result.

It must be noted, if convicted of a felony it will affect your gun rights. California has strict laws about felons with or in possession of a firearm under PC 29800. Furthermore, a felony conviction can impact someone’s immigration status. Especially if aggravating factors play a role. If so, deportation could be a consequence. These are only some of the reasons why getting an expert criminal defense lawyer to fight for your rights can make a difference in the outcome.

Penalties for Closely Related Offenses

California Penal Code 626.10(a)(1) - certain knives on public or private schools;

Misdemeanor;

Summary (informal) probation, and/or

Up to one year in county jail.

Felony:

Formal (felony) probation, and/or

Up to three years in state prison.

California Penal Code 25400 - carrying a concealed weapon;

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars, and

Summary (informal) probation.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation, and

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

As much as ten thousand dollars in fines.

California Penal Code 21310 - carrying a concealed dirk or dagger;

Misdemeanor;

Summary (informal) probation,

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

As long as three years in county jail, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines.

California Penal Code 417 - brandishing a weapon or firearm;

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year in county jail.

Felony;

Up to three years in state prison.

California Penal Code 18710 - possession of destructive devices; 

Misdemeanor;

Informal (summary) probation,

Fines of up to one thousand dollars, and/or

Up to one year in county jail.

Felony;

Felony (formal) probation,

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines, and/or

16 months, 2, or 3 years in state prison.

California Penal Code 21510 - possession of a switchblade;

Misdemeanor;

Summary (informal) probation,

Fines of up to one thousand dollars, and/or

Up to six months in county jail.

California Penal Code 29800 - felon with a firearm;

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

Up to three years in county jail, and/or

As much as ten thousand dollars in fines.

We Can Help

Weapons charges like PC 171b or any of the closely related offense are not to be taken lightly. Failing to defend your rights will carry long-term penalties as well as unforeseeable consequences. If you are facing any of these offenses and are located in the greater San Diego area, Los Angeles or Orange County contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum.

Attorney Yum is a top-rated defense lawyer who comes highly recommended by clients and colleagues alike. As a former prosecutor turned award-winning criminal defense lawyer, she understands how quickly the law can move to successfully convict you. With this in mind, her priority is to build the toughest possible defense.

Our office also understands that affordability plays a part in retaining good legal representation. If this is a concern you have, please ask us about our affordable rates and payment plans. For more information on any of the aforementioned laws do not hesitate to call us. Schedule your free, no-obligation consultation at 619-233-4433 or fill out our online contact form.

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