In this unpublished opinion of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, a police officer was entitled to qualified immunity after he conducted a warrantless search and seizure based on the mistaken belief that a “ninja keychain” was an illegal weapon in Virginia.


JOHN ASFOUR, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. C. M. COSSLETT, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 96-2132
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 26879
Decided – September 29, 1997

The Court explains:

Asfour was driving a van on Interstate 95 when Trooper Cosslett stopped him for speeding. In plain view on the console of Asfour’s van was a “ninja keychain,” a metal shaft with two blunt-end spikes protruding from the shaft. In his affidavit, Asfour admits that a ninja keychain may be used as a weapon by gripping the device in a fist so that the two spikes protrude on either side of the middle finger, extending about one inch beyond the fingers.

ninja keychain

When he saw the keychain, Trooper Cosslett informed Asfour that it was an illegal weapon in Virginia. He then conducted a search of the van, seizing the keychain and two firearms concealed in the van. Criminal charges against Asfour ultimately were dismissed.

Concluding:

The dispute in this case centers on whether a reasonable officer in Trooper Cosslett’s position would have believed the ninja keychain to be contraband. The relevant in the case.statute makes it illegal to possess various items, including “brass or metal knucks . . . or like weapons.” Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-311 (Michie 1996). Asfour asserts that the keychain is so obviously different from brass knucks that it does not fall under the statute and that a reasonable officer would have recognized this. He cites no authority in support of his argument.

We disagree with his position. The ninja keychains are just the sort of “like weapons” contemplated by § 18.2-311. Asfour himself admits in his affidavit that such keychains are weapons, and he describes how they are used. Like brass knucks, they are held in the fist and meant to inflict more harm than an ordinary fist could cause. This certainly qualifies them as “like weapons” under the statute.

A reasonable officer in Trooper Cosslett’s position would have believed the ninja keychain to be contraband under Virginia law. Trooper Cosslett therefore was entitled to qualified immunity in connection with the search of the van and the seizure of the keychain and guns. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s order. We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the material before the court and argument would not aid the decisional process.

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