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9th Circuit: Knife on Bank Counter Isn't Armed Bank Robbery

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

A recent Ninth Circuit appeal explains that just because an Arizona bank robber placed a knife on the counter during a bank robbery, that doesn’t necessarily automatically make the robbery an armed robbery.

As the Ninth Circuit explained in USA v. Bain, there is a critical difference between simply having a weapon and using that weapon to commit a crime. In the case in question, the bank robber merely pulled out his folded pocket knife and placed it on the bank's counter because a plastic bag was in the same pocket and he needed to take out the knife in order to get out his plastic bag. Significantly, the bank robber not only pleaded guilty to the charges but did so without even accepting a plea bargain.

That's Not a Knife

Although Crocodile Dundee might not think that a folding pocket knife is a knife, legally, he's wrong. Fortunately for the bank robber, Neil Martin Bain, in this Ninth Circuit appeal, the panel of justices agreed that merely placing the folded knife on the counter was not using the knife in commission of the crime, and thus not enough to support a conviction for armed robbery.

The court was careful to distinguish the situation from when a criminal places a gun on the counter and when one brandishes a gun or uses it as a threat or tool to commit the crime. It explained that prior precedents have held that when a robber has a concealed gun and it is only inadvertently seen, rather than intentionally brandished, the robber cannot be convicted of armed robbery. During the post-plea admonitions delivered by the court, no evidence or proof of use of the knife was put on the record. As a result of the Ninth Circuit's decision, the trial court will need to reassess the guilty plea and resentence Bain.

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