Juvenile’s delinquent adjudication reversed based on illegal search

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Because the physical evidence used to adjudicate a teen as delinquent was the direct result of an illegal search of his backpack by police, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.

In N.S. v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1407-JV-338, police began an inventory search of a stolen car, which included a backpack found in the back seat where N.S. was seated when the stolen car was located. The backpack had a firearm and marijuana. The formal inventory search wasn’t completed because the car’s owner arrived at the scene and the car was released to him.

N.S. challenged the evidence and any derivative testimony as illegal under the Fourth Amendment. The juvenile court at first granted his motion to suppress because it found the search was illegal, but later allowed D.M., the driver when the stolen car was recovered, to testify regarding the contents of the backpack.  After he testified, the court adjudicated N.S. for committing what would be dangerous possession of a firearm and possession of marijuana, as Class A misdemeanors, if committed by an adult.

“On the record before us, it is clear that the State obtained the physical evidence – the firearm and the marijuana – as a direct consequence of the illegal search of the backpack. These items were, consistent with our Indiana Supreme Court’s guidance in Pirtle, inadmissible,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote.  

The State contended that D.M.’s knowledge of the contents of the backpack were independent of the backpack search, so they should be allowed.

“N.S. argues that D.M.’s own legal jeopardy allowed exploitation of the original illegality in this case. We agree, as no facts of record point to an intervening circumstance to clear the taint of the illegal search. D.M. did not, on his own initiative, direct officers to contraband. Rather, for a favorable plea bargain, he made an in-court identification of contraband he claimed to know that N.S. had possessed,” Bailey wrote. “Both the physical exhibits and D.M.’s testimony were fruit of the illegal search.”


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