The Counsellor's Corner


Should a convicted felon be forbidden from possessing bullet-proof body armor?  In late July, a judge in Los Angeles refused to declare a new state law unconstitutional which prevents a convicted felon from wearing a bullet-proof vest.  This case involves rap artist Russell Jones who, shortly after the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls decided that the streets are not safe for rappers these days and he might be better off with some protection.  He then purchased a bullet-proof vest and began to wear it on a regular basis.

I understand the purpose of the statute, however I don’t believe that it is lawful and I expect it to be declared unconstitutional by an appellate court.

This law stemmed from the horrific 1997 North Hollywood shootout between police and heavily-armed gunmen which most of us watched in horror on our television sets.  It was violent, it was frightening; it was something that those who watched will never forget.  The goal of the legislation is to dissuade felons from committing violent crimes.  This law would make more sense if it were amended to make the wearing of a bullet-proof vest while  I committing a crime a felony or perhaps enhance the prison term of one who wears such a vest while committing a criminal act.  I believe the key here should be whether or not the bullet-proof vest is being worn “offensively” or “defensively.”  If one is wearing it for self protection or as a fashion statement (just kidding), that should not be unlawful.  If one is wearing his vest with a crime spree in mind, that of course should be unlawful, either as a criminal act unto itself or as something to be used to increase the sentence of an individual convicted of the crime.  An enhancement is something that adds to the amount of time one is ordered to serve in state prison if convicted of a crime.  For example, if one were to commit armed robbery, one would face a certain sentence, however if one were charged with armed robbery with the use of a gun, the use of a gun is what is referred to as an enhancement, and it is therefore used to lengthen the sentence. 

Even the judge who is handling this case has problems with this law.  He concluded that if the rapper, also known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, was wearing the vest then he may well have committed a crime.  However the court indicated its belief that applying the new law in this case “makes no logical sense.”

I’m not exactly a fan of rap music; especially rap with violent lyrics not to mention rappers who choose names with profanity.  Nevertheless if someone feels that their life may be in danger and they want to wear a bullet-proof vest, I believe should be able to do so.

Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth.  Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.