Amicus lector
Is a machete a deadly weapon or a dangerous weapon?

On Monday, a man named Derek Arapahoe appeared in court for the first time on aggravated assault charges for an attack involving a machete.

Mr. Arapahoe was defiant on his way to court, shouting “I’m innocent, I’m innocent” as he walked by news crews.

That normally doesn’t happen.

Then again, assaults don’t normally involve machetes. Lt. David McIntire of the Sioux Falls Police Department said the victim was lucky to have escaped more serious injuries in the attack, which allegedly involved Arapahoe and his brother sneaking up on the victim as he neared his girlfriend’s apartment.

There’s one other thing that jumped out about the story, at least to my colleague Steve Young: The charges themselves.

Arapahoe was charged with aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

“There’s a difference between a deadly weapon and a dangerous weapon?” Young said.


Before we get to why, let’s do a little context.

Arapahoe was charged through “alternative counts,” which means he’s charged for the same crime under two different sections of the law. There’s only one punishment for any crime, but alternative counts give prosecutors plenty of ways to obtain convictions. Prosecutors use alternatives in hopes of proving all the elements of at least one count to jury.

There are five ways to commit the crime of aggravated assault in South Dakota: You either threaten someone with a deadly weapon, inflict serious bodily harm, inflict or attempt to inflict harm at all with a dangerous weapon, attempt to inflict or actually inflict serious harm by attacking someone in a manner that disregards the value of human life, or you choke someone by applying pressure to the throat or covering the nose and mouth.

If Arapahoe argues that he didn’t hit the victim but prosecutors can prove he was there and had a machete, he can still be convicted. He didn’t cause harm, but he put the victim in fear of harm.

Murder works the same way. If you and a friend show up to rob someone with a gun and the one with a gun ends up killing someone, both you and your friend (and perhaps the person who gave you the gun) can be charged with murder under different subsections of the law.

So let’s get back to the deadly vs. dangerous question: Is a machete deadly, or is it dangerous?

It’s both.

The reason Mr. Arapahoe’s charges include both words is that the exact wording of the statute uses both words: Subsection 2 uses dangerous; Subsection 5 uses deadly.

The legal definition of deadly and dangerous, according to Minnehaha County Deputy State’s Attorney Edward Angel, is exactly the same.

Angel sent me an email today with a link to the actual definitions under state law.

(10) “Dangerous weapon” or “deadly weapon,” any firearm, stun gun, knife, or device, instrument, material, or substance, whether animate or inanimate, which is calculated or designed to inflict death or serious bodily harm, or by the manner in which it is used is likely to inflict death or serious bodily harm



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