This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).




In the Matter of the Welfare of: H. H. P., Child.

Filed April 27, 1999


Kalitowski, Judge

St. Louis County District Court

File No. J297651602

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Daniel P. Rogan, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Pillsbury Center South, 220 South Sixth Street, Suite 1300, Minneapolis, MN 55402-2199 (for appellant)

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and

Alan L. Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney, Leslie E. Beiers, Assistant County Attorney, 403 Government Services Center, 320 West Second Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Foley, Judge.[*]



Appellant H.H.P., a juvenile, contends the district court erred by determining he was guilty of a felony for possessing a dangerous weapon on school property, arguing: (1) the multipurpose tool found in appellant's backpack is not a dangerous weapon under Minn. Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1 (1998); and (2) the tool should have been suppressed as the product of an unlawful search and seizure. Because we conclude the multipurpose tool is not a dangerous weapon as defined by the statute, we reverse.


Whether an instrument is a dangerous weapon under the statute is a purely legal question, and therefore this court reviews the issue de novo. See State v. Basting, 572 N.W.2d 281, 282 (Minn. 1997) (applying de novo standard in determining whether a fist was a dangerous weapon). Whoever "possesses, stores, or keeps a dangerous weapon" on school property is guilty of a felony. Minn. Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1d(a) (1998). The definition of "dangerous weapon" includes (1) firearms, (2) devices designed as weapons and capable of producing death or great bodily harm, and (3) devices used or intended to be used to produce death or great bodily harm. Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 6 (1998); see Minn. Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1d (c)(2) (stating that "dangerous weapon" has the meaning given it in section 609.02, subdivision 6). Because it is undisputed the multipurpose tool is not a firearm and there is no evidence concerning its use or intended use by appellant, even if it is capable of producing death or great bodily harm, the multipurpose tool is a dangerous weapon only if it was "designed as a weapon."

The record indicates a police liaison officer, at the request of a school official, searched appellant's backpack and found a multipurpose tool. The multipurpose tool has an assortment of components, including a pliers, a can opener, three screwdrivers, a file, a saw blade, and a short straight-edged blade. The officer confiscated the tool and appellant was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon on school property in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.66, subd. 1d(a). Appellant argues the multipurpose tool found in his possession was not designed as a weapon, and therefore is not a dangerous weapon under the statute. We agree.

In construing the meaning of a statute, the court must give words their common and ordinary meaning. Minn. Stat. § 645.08(1) (1998). The multipurpose tool at issue has a variety of uses, is sold in camping stores, and marketed to people who want the convenience of several tools in a single instrument. It is neither marketed nor primarily used as a weapon. Appellant testified that he had the multipurpose tool in his backpack because he used the pliers when the chain came off his bicycle.

Based on the ordinary meaning of the words, we conclude the device at issue was not "designed as a weapon" so as to make its mere possession on school property a felony. This conclusion is further supported by the fact that penal statutes must be strictly construed with all reasonable doubts concerning legislative intent to be resolved in favor of the defendant. State v. Wagner, 555 N.W.2d 752, 754 (Minn. App. 1996). The fact that the multipurpose tool included a short blade along with several other tools does not reasonably alert its owner, be it a student, teacher, or custodian, that under the law the multipurpose tool is considered a dangerous weapon.

We emphasize that our decision does not affect the situation specifically addressed in Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 6, where a device is a dangerous weapon because it is used or intended to be used to produce death or great bodily harm. Nor does this case in any way limit the authority of schools to set their own standards, policies, and penalties for possession of certain items. Rather, we simply conclude the multipurpose tool at issue here does not meet the statutory definition of a dangerous weapon. Because we reverse on this ground, we decline to address appellant's argument that he was subjected to an unlawful search and seizure.


[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by apointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.