MACE, GUNS, KNIVES and EGGS … anything can be a deadly weapon, depending upon how it is used.
The Pa Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Chambers, No. 2389 EDA 2015 (March 7, 2017), holding that even if mace is not an inherently deadly instrumentality, it became a deadly weapon because it was used to render the victim defenseless against Chambers’ sustained attack.
Chambers was involved in a confrontation with the victim that turned physical. During the altercation, he began punching the victim and prompted one or more of his unidentified cohorts to spray mace at the victim. The assault of the victim by Chambers included repeated punching, infliction of physical injuries, and, until police physically intervened, an unrelenting attack of the victim. Chambers also threatened to kill the victim during the attack.
As a result of being sprayed with mace, the victim could no longer could see clearly as Chambers pushed him flat onto the street and knelt on him, punching and kicking him while someone “kept spraying” him. The victim was treated for three hairline rib fractures, a concussion, a laceration requiring stitches, and a burnt retina from the mace.
Following the testimony presented at trial and the trial court’s verdicts, Chambers was sentenced to 11⁄2 to 3 years of incarceration, followed by 3 years of reporting probation.
Chambers raised a number of issues on appeal but, the gravamen of his appeals was whether the trial court erred in finding mace to be a deadly weapon and an instrument of a crime.
Mace is a type of pepper spray that is commonly used as a self- defense agent. Chambers characterized it as an instrument which is not inherently a deadly weapon and which is intended to temporarily incapacitate the victim of an assault. He also observed that no evidence was presented at trial regarding the nature of mace or its chemical composition.
The Superior Court noted that the trial court did not conclude that mace was inherently a deadly weapon; rather, mace qualified as a deadly weapon in this case because of the way it was used.
In this case, the trial court characterized mace as a deadly weapon under the final clause of the definition of “deadly weapon” definition in the applicable section of the Crimes Code. Specifically, a deadly weapon includes any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner in which it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.
Accordingly, the Superior Court concluded that the plain language of the Legislature’s definition of “deadly weapon” makes clear that the weapon need not be a “firearm . . . or any device designed as a weapon,” but may also be “any other device or instrumentality which, in the manner in which it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.”
Noting that deadly weapons are commonly items which one would traditionally think of as dangerous (e.g., guns, knives, etc.), the Superior Court also acknowledged there are instances when items which normally are not considered to be weapons can take on a deadly status. In such circumstances, these items take on “deadly weapon” status based upon their use under the circumstances. For example, the appellate court explained that “even an egg can be a deadly weapon when thrown from the roof of building at the windshield of a vehicle.”
Applying the above analysis to the instant case, even if mace is not an inherently deadly instrumentality, its use in this case played a critical role in the assault of the victim, and it became a deadly weapon because it was used to render the victim defenseless against Chambers’ sustained attack.
Under these circumstances, the Superior Court concluded that mace was a deadly weapon for the use of which the trial correctly court found Appellant criminally liable. Additionally, for similar reasons, the Superior Court also held that mace was an “instrument of crime” for purposes of the PIC conviction: The mace was “used for criminal purposes” and it was possessed and used “under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses it may have.”
DISCLAIMER – The information contained in this article is for general guidance on the subject matter only. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, and the inherent hazards of electronic communication, there may be delays, omissions or inaccuracies in information in this article. Case summaries are primarily excerpted directly from the decisions authored by the Courts. The decisions are cited and linked and the reader is encouraged to read the entire decision. Accordingly, the information in this article is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not herein engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice and services. As such, it should NOT be used as a substitute for consultation with a McMahon & Winters Law Firm attorney. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should always consult with a McMahon & Winters Law Firm attorney.