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Justices reverse teen’s handgun conviction

June 29, 2017

Finding police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop an 18-year-old male who was in a high-crime area where a shooting had occurred days earlier by a group of youths, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed his conviction of misdemeanor possession of a handgun without a license.

Jordan Jacobs, then 18, was in an Indianapolis park with a red T-shirt over his shoulder and hanging out with a few other people. Days earlier, there were reports of shots fired by teens wearing red clothing, a known gang color, in the same area. Officer Terry Smith sat in an unmarked car and watched the group, seeing Jacobs and another person leave the area when a park ranger came by on patrol. The two later returned. Smith believed Jacobs could be truant.

Smith called for backup and when police arrived, Jacobs again quickly walked away. He was ordered to stop and eventually complied. When handcuffed, police saw the outline of a handgun in his pants.

He was convicted of Class A misdemeanor possession of a handgun without a license. He had objected to the testimony of the officers and admission of the handgun on the grounds the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop him under the state or federal constitutions. Jacobs was sentenced to one year probation.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in a divided decision, but the justices reversed Thursday. Justice Mark Massa wrote police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the teen under both the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

He pointed out Smith believed Jacobs could be truant, but did not stop him until hours later when school would have been out. Massa also wrote that Jacobs’ act of leaving the park when the patrol car came by, then returning, is not enough to establish reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

And even though he had a red T-shirt draped on his shoulder, which could give rise that he was involved with a gang given the number of other people wearing red in the park at the same time, police had no reasonable suspicion that Jacobs’ specifically was involved in any way with the earlier shooting. Mere suspected affiliation with the suspected gang is not enough to justify a Terry stop on its own, Massa wrote in Jordan Jacobs v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1706-CR-438.

Justice Steven David concurred in result.

 

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