What is a Deadly Weapon?

introduction to what is a deadly weapon


Introduction to What is a Deadly Weapon?

introduction to what is a deadly weaponLegislatures throughout the country routinely enact statutes that punish similar crimes differently depending on a number of factors. For example, property crimes – crimes like theft and burglary that are carried out against a person’s personal property – are generally punished with lighter sentences than crimes committed against individual’s “persons” (such as assault, battery, and homicide crimes). In a similar fashion, crimes that are carried out with a “deadly weapon” are subject to sentences that are harsher than crimes that do not involve deadly weapons. Not only are prison/jail sentences typically longer, but in some states the defendant must register as a violent offender for a specific number of years. The reason for this treatment of crimes committed with a “deadly weapon” is obvious: there is a higher chance of death or serious bodily injury when a crime is committed with a deadly weapon. What is not so clear, however, is what constitutes a “deadly weapon.”

Arizona’s Approach – Objective Definition

Some states (like Arizona) have an objective definition of “deadly weapon.” Under Arizona law, a “deadly weapon” is defined as any instrument or item that is designed for lethal use, including a firearm. That is, any item that is produced or manufactured for the purpose of killing a living being can be considered a “deadly weapon” – a firearm, a knife, a sword or other similar weapon would easily be considered a “deadly weapon.” This objective definition would not include items that are designed for a non-deadly purpose but used in a dangerous way (such as a car, baseball bat, or screwdriver). (In the case of Arizona, innocuous items used to accomplish a deadly purpose are defined as “dangerous instruments”.)

Kansas’s Approach – Subjective Definition

In contrast to Arizona’s approach, other states like Kansas focus on the manner in which a particular item is used to determine whether the item is a “deadly weapon” (or a “dangerous instrument,” which are considered synonymous in some of these states). In these states, even items with peaceful or constructive purposes can be considered to be “deadly weapons” if they are used in such a way that death or serious bodily injury can result. For example, a baseball bat or screwdriver can be considered “deadly weapons” in states like Kansas if the person wielding the item intends to cause serious bodily harm or death with the item.

Pay Attention to Your State’s Laws

This makes it extremely important for defendants charged with committing an offense involving a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon to familiarize themselves with their state’s laws before accepting a plea agreement or deciding to take their case to trial. If a defendant is charged with an offense committed with a deadly weapon in a state that follows an objective approach, the defendant may wish to consider challenging the charge if the instrument is one with a primarily innocuous and peaceful purpose. Similarly, in a state following the subjective approach the defendant would want to consider what evidence the prosecution has that suggests the defendant intended to use the instrument to kill or cause serious bodily harm before determining how to proceed.  Click here for the Arizona statute on deadly weapons in Arizona.


Offenses that are committed with “deadly weapons” (or “dangerous instruments”) are typically punished more severely than other crimes. No matter the nature of the criminal charge you are facing, it is always a good idea to take the time to read the relevant statute – including any statutes that define important terms like “deadly weapon.” Knowing how these terms are defined will help you better evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s evidence against you and can help you make a more informed decision regarding whether to seek a plea agreement, diversion/deferred prosecution arrangement, or challenge the charge(s) at trial.


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