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North Dakota: Altered Pencil in Prison Results in Weapon Possession Conviction

The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Arthur Lee Crissler on a charge of possessing a weapon in a correctional facility.

During a September 3, 2016 search of Crissler’s cellblock, a pencil wrapped in paper, thread and elastic was found concealed under the mattress on Crissler’s bunk. He admitted the object was his and was charged with possessing a weapon.

The applicable statute, N.D.C.C. § 12-44.1-21(5), states “[i]t is unlawful for an inmate in a correctional facility to willfully procure, make, or possess an object, including a shard made of any material or a weapon, firearm, ammunition, or explosive material, intended to be used for an assault on another person or to damage property.”

At trial, Burleigh County Detention Center guard Lucas Kuntz testified about the pencil, which was a “flex pencil” that is very flexible in its unaltered state and thus hard to use as a weapon. The pencil found under Crissler’s bunk “was wrapped in paper that had first been wetted and then, when in place, allowed to dry, which had the effect of increasing the rigidity of the pencil.”

The court noted that “The rigidity was further increased by the thread-like string. Finally elastic that appeared to come from a pair of underwear was added in a manner that would have made the pencil easier to grip. The sharpened, stiffened, and reinforced flexible pencil protruded from the handle made of reinforced elastic in a manner that could allow a person to stab another person while simultaneously punching him.”

Based upon Kuntz’s testimony and after viewing the pencil as an exhibit, a jury found Crissler guilty. On October 17, 2017, the North Dakota Supreme Court held that Kuntz’s testimony was admissible and the conviction was supported by the evidence, as the jurors “could have reasonably found that Crissler possessed an object” which could be used as a weapon. The verdict was therefore affirmed. See: North Dakota v. Crissler, 2017 ND 249 (N.D. 2017).



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Related legal case

North Dakota v. Crissler