Lamar Wendell THOMPSON, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES, Appellee.
Argued Dec. 5, 2012. -- January 17, 2013
Meredith Dempsey, Student Attorney, with whom Moses Cook, Supervising Attorney, Jacqueline F. Kappler, Student Attorney, and Jared T. Rudolph, Student Attorney, were on the brief, for appellant.Harry B. Roback, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Chrisellen R. Kolb, and Allen T. O'Rourke, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.
Appellant Lamar Thompson challenges his conviction for attempted possession of a prohibited weapon (a knife with a metal knuckles handle), claiming that (1) the weapon did not meet the statutory definition of “knuckles,” (2) the statute is unconstitutionally vague, and (3) the prohibition infringes upon his Second Amendment rights. Finding no merit in his statutory or constitutional challenges, we affirm appellant's conviction.
Between 9 and 10 p.m. on September 20, 2010, Metropolitan Police Officer Bryan Adelmeyer and two other officers were investigating a series of robberies in the area of 3509 Georgia Avenue, Northwest, when they approached appellant, believing that he matched the description of a suspected robber. Officer Adelmeyer asked appellant whether he knew anything about the robberies or had any weapons. Appellant responded that he had a knife, pointed to the waistband of his pants, and consented to a search of his person.
Officer Adelmeyer testified, “I lifted up [appellant's] shirt and I observed inside of his pants, in his right waistband, what appeared to be a brass knuckle handle of a knife. I started pulling the knife out and I realized it was a knife that had ․ significant length to it.” The weapon police removed from the sheath inside Thompson's waistband had a blade approximately nine inches long, with a series of large scalloped teeth along its spine. A photograph of the weapon is attached to this opinion.
Officer Adelmeyer arrested appellant, who was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon, namely, “a double-bladed knife with brass knuckles on the handle,” in violation of D.C.Code § 22–4514(a) (2008 Supp.) (PPW (a)).1 The information was later amended to charge attempted possession. The Honorable Marisa Demeo presided over a non-jury trial on March 18 and 21, 2011. Appellant's counsel raised, and the trial court rejected, essentially the same Fifth Amendment vagueness and Second Amendment arguments that are now before us on appeal. The trial court found that the weapon met the statutory definition of “knuckles” and that the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant actually possessed it. Judge Demeo described the weapon as
a multi-purpose weapon, designed to do, as I can tell, by its very design, major destruction and damage to other individuals. It's not designed solely to do things in the home or solely to defend one's self against an intruder because this knife has on one side, a large blade and on the other side, jagged edges that if once moved into an individual's body, could cause ․ serious damage and perhaps death because of the way it's designed. It's designed to rip pieces out of a person's body once it's inserted in.
The court held that the addition of a blade to the knuckles did not exempt the weapon from the coverage of the PPW (a) statute, and that the weapon in evidence was a “dangerous and unusual weapon” not protected by the Second Amendment. Judge Demeo also found that appellant had carried the weapon in a concealed manner and, as a result, was not entitled to Second Amendment protections.
II. Legal Analysis
Appellant claims that the statutory definition of “knuckles” does not apply to his weapon and is unconstitutionally vague, depriving him of notice that his conduct was subject to criminal sanction. We review such questions of statutory interpretation de novo. McNeely v. United States, 874 A.2d 371, 387 (D.C.2005).
The District of Columbia, like many other jurisdictions, has prohibited possession of knuckles under some circumstances for more than a century.2 The District's first prohibition, which forbade the concealed possession of “brass or other metal knuckles,” was intended, according to one senator, “to apply to the criminal classes in the alleys of Washington․” Senate Debate on the Act of July 13, 1892, 23 Cong. Rec. 5788, 5789 (July 6, 1892). Congress later expanded the prohibition to include all “metal knuckles” regardless of how they were carried. Act of July 8, 1932, ch. 465, § 14, 47 Stat. 650 (1932). The most recent amendment to § 22–4514(a) sought to provide a detailed definition of knuckles for the first time, and to ensure the prohibition included knuckles made of materials that are as destructive as metal and can be more difficult to detect with metal detectors.3 That definition provides:
(3) “Knuckles” means an object, whether made of metal, wood, plastic, or other similarly durable material that is constructed of one piece, the outside part of which is designed to fit over and cover the fingers on a hand and the inside part of which is designed to be gripped by the fist.
D.C.Code § 22–4501(3) (2008 Supp.).
Appellant claims that this definition is unconstitutionally vague and cannot reasonably be construed to apply to his weapon. But appellant must overcome the “strong presumptive validity that attaches” to duly enacted statutes,4 and can only prevail on vagueness grounds if the statute is so indefinite that an ordinary person could not reasonably understand that the statute prohibited his conduct. McNeely, 874 A.2d at 381–82. Appellant acknowledges that his weapon, often called a “trench knife,” “does have a handle that has knuckles on it.” However, he argues that because “the handle of the trench knife is not separable from the blade itself,” his weapon does not fit § 22–4501's definition of knuckles. Moreover, he claims that a trench knife serves a separate purpose from knuckles, and that the Council did not intend to prohibit its possession per se.
We cannot accept appellant's argument because it ignores both the statute's language and its evident purpose. See D.C. Appleseed Ctr. for Law & Justice v. District of Columbia Dep't of Ins., Sec., & Banking, 54 A.3d 1188, 1215 (D.C.2012) (rejecting interpretation as “not faithful to the statute's language, overall structure, and purpose”). We agree that the statutory definition of “knuckles” is not ideally worded, but appellant cannot reasonably claim that he had no notice that his conduct was prohibited. See Brown v. District of Columbia, 727 A.2d 865, 869 n. 4 (D.C.1999) (statute is not void for vagueness merely because its language is “imprecise” as long as it provides a “comprehensible normative standard”) (citations omitted).5
The statutory definition aptly describes the handle of appellant's weapon,6 which readily serves the same purpose as more traditional knuckles. The handle of a trench knife is designed to enhance the force of a blow with a fist.7 We do not read § 22–4501's requirement that the knuckles be “constructed of one piece” to exclude this solid metal object, designed to augment the impact of a punch and matching the commonly understood description of knuckles, merely because it incorporates a nine-inch blade.8 To do so would lead to absurd results. See Dobyns v. United States, 30 A.3d 155, 159 (D.C.2011) (relying upon plain meaning of statute where doing so would not produce absurd results). The addition of the blade makes the weapon more versatile and more lethal, combining the dangerous features of knuckles with those of knives designed for use in hand-to-hand combat.9 Exempting this weapon from the reach of § 22–4514(a) would have the perverse effect of prohibiting possession of only the least dangerous versions of knuckles.10
Adopting appellant's restrictive interpretation would frustrate the Council's intent to extend the long-standing prohibition to “weaponized knuckles” constructed to “cause just as much physical harm as metal knuckles that are already prohibited under the Districts [sic] criminal code.” Testimony of Joshua Ederheimer, Ass't Chief, Metropolitan Police Dep't, before the D.C. Council Comm. on Pub. Safety and the Judiciary, Comm. Report on Bill 17–627, “Title 22 Amendment Act of 2008,” L17–0390, Period 17 (July 11, 2008). The Council clearly viewed knuckles as an “inherently dangerous” weapon. See Diggs v. United States, 966 A.2d 857, 860 (D.C.2009) (distinguishing “inherently dangerous” weapons prohibited by § 22–4514(a) from other objects whose possession is only prohibited, pursuant to § 22–4514(b), when carried with unlawful intent). Adding a lethal blade to the knuckles certainly does not make them any less dangerous.
“One to whose conduct a statute clearly applies may not successfully challenge it for vagueness.” Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 756, 94 S.Ct. 2547, 41 L.Ed.2d 439 (1974).11 Accordingly, we hold that in these circumstances § 22–4501 is “ ‘not lacking in fair warning such that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application․’ “ McNeely, 874 A.2d at 383 (quoting Connally v. Gen. Constr. Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 70 L.Ed. 322 (1926)). It therefore is not unconstitutionally vague.12
B. The Second Amendment
Appellant also asserts that the conviction violates his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. We need not address this claim at length. Appellant carried the weapon inside the waistband of his pants, hidden beneath his shirt. As we have previously held, there is no Second Amendment right to carry a concealed weapon. Gamble v. United States, 30 A.3d 161, 164–66 (D.C.2011).13
The judgment of the Superior Court is hereby
FISHER, Associate Judge: