COA upholds stop of teen with gun

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found the stop by police of a teen at a summer expo in Indianapolis who had a loaded gun in his waistband didn’t violate the teen’s state or federal constitutional rights. The appellate court also concluded the juvenile court’s comments to the teen’s father don’t require a remand.

Teen W.H. was attending Black Expo in Indianapolis when police officers who were in a building above where W.H. was standing outside thought he may have a gun. The officers saw him lift his shirt, make hand movements toward his waist, and show something from his waistband. The officers radioed a description to police near the street corner, which had approximately 50 to 100 people on it.

Officers detained W.H., who matched the description. He initially tried to resist and denied he had a gun. Police found a gun in his waistband. He was charged with various offenses, including Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license.

W.H. moved to suppress evidence because he thought it was the result of an unconstitutional search; the juvenile court denied the motion. At the hearing, W.H.’s father addressed the court, saying he was concerned that anyone could have fit the description given by the officers. The judge reinforced that W.H. had a loaded gun.

In W.H. v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0912-JV-1166, the appellate court affirmed W.H.’s federal and state constitutional rights weren’t violated by the stop and search by the officers. The police officers who stopped W.H. were alerted by other officers and had reasonable suspicion to stop him. The officers could reasonably believe W.H. had a weapon in his waistband and was showing it off. The officers weren’t required to rule out innocent explanations of why W.H. was lifting up his shirt, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. Also based on the number of people around, the officers were monitoring the crowds for public safety. W.H.’s Fourth Amendment rights weren’t violated.

Nor were his rights violated under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Based on the degree of suspicion that W.H. had a gun, the brevity and unintrusive nature of the stop, and the need to maintain safety, the officers didn’t act unreasonably, the appellate court ruled.

W.H. also claimed that the juvenile court offered no explanation for the constitutional basis of its suppression ruling and the case should be remanded for the juvenile court to explain its reasons. But a trial court doesn’t have to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law in connection with a motion to suppress evidence, wrote Judge Vaidik. In addition, the record shows the juvenile court properly based its ruling on the constitutionality of the officers’ search.

“The juvenile court simply admonished W.H.’s father for permitting W.H. to attend the Black Expo with a loaded gun,” she wrote. “These comments were irrelevant to the determination of reasonable suspicion and the constitutionality of the police officers’ stop-and-frisk.”



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