About Me

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I am an attorney practicing in Hartford, Connecticut. A particular focus of mine is the legal needs of the amusement and tourism industry. My focus on the amusement industry derives from my pre-law career as an operations manager with Cedar Fair Entertainment Company and Universal Orlando. Having started my career as a ride operator at Cedar Point in 1992, I progressed through the seasonal ranks and ultimately became the Manager of Ride Operations and Park Services at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. I also worked in Universal's operations department during the construction and development of Islands of Adventure. Today, I am an active member of the New England Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions and the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions. I have been invited to speak at amusement industry meetings and seminars and have worked on a variety of matters relating to this industry.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Carnival prize as deadly weapon? The Missouri Court of Appeals Says Yes.

An interesting case from the Missouri Court of Appeals released earlier this week found that a carnival prize qualified as a "deadly weapon," specifically a "dagger," for purposes of Missouri's First-Degree Burglary law.  The case is State of Missouri v. Harrel, the opinion can be found here.  While most of us tend to think of carnival prizes as innocuous children's toys, in this case, the Court found it to be much more.  The Defendant, Lee Harrell, apparently took from his friend's home a replica "Sword of Narnia" that his friend's sons had won while visiting a local carnival.  Mr. Harrell then broke into a local church armed with the replica sword.



Missouri's first degree burglary statute required proof that Mr. Harrell was armed with a "deadly weapon" at the time of the burglary, and included in the list of "deadly weapons" daggers, but not (oddly) swords.  Mr. Harrell argued that a replica sword won by children at a carnival with no sharpened edges was a child's toy not a deadly weapon - and certainly not a dagger.  But the court disagreed finding that the replica sword fell within the broad definition of dagger.  Most interestingly, the court held that the replica met the requirement that it be designed or intended to be used for stabbing during combat because the facts showed that both Mr. Harrell and his friend believed the sword to be "dangerous" - Mr. Harrell because he took it with him for protection and his friend because she wouldn't let her sons and their friend's play with it.


I'm not so sure I agree.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for locking up criminals who break into churches, but I'm not all for locking them up for crimes they didn't commit.  First, whether something is "dangerous" or not is not really the issue.  A fork is "dangerous" if used improperly, but that doesn't mean it was designed for stabbing during combat.  Second, let's be real here ... is a carnival prize, even a replica sword, really "designed or intended to be used for stabbing during combat?"  I don't think so.  It's a replica - by definition, it is not intended to be used in combat but for show.  Plus, it was won at a carnival - where, in my experience, you don't often go if you are shopping for something intended to be used for stabbing during combat.

Now some might argue that the fact that it could be used for stabbing was enough.  But not so fast.  The Court specifically discussed prior cases where defendants had not been convicted of first degree burglary because, even where the victim was ACTUALLY STABBED, there was no proof that it was a result of a dagger as compared to a switch blade or a shard of broken glass.  The fact that Missouri courts had taken such a strict reading of the statute in the past (as they should), calls the decision in Harrell into question.

Nonetheless...the lesson from this case is clear.  If you want to purchase a "deadly weapon," (at least in Missouri), you may need to look no further than your local carnival's game booth.

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