4th Amendment seizure case goes to Supreme Court

It was a high-crime area, he was wearing the color associated with a local gang, and police believed he was a juvenile who was truant from school. Given those circumstances, state officials argued before the Indiana Supreme Court Thursday that officers were justified in stopping 18-year-old Jordan Jacobs and arresting him after discovering an handgun in his pocket.

But Darren Bedwell, Jacobs’ counsel, disagreed, telling the courts that Jacobs’ constitutional rights were not forfeited just because he was hanging out in a poorer neighborhood or wearing red, the color commonly associated with an Indianapolis-area gang. The stop and apprehension of Jacobs and the eventual seizure of his gun violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, Bedwell said, so the Indiana Supreme Court should grant transfer to overturn a Court of Appeals opinion that diminishes those constitutional rights.

After his arrest in September 2015, Jacobs objected to the admission of the handgun as evidence at his trial. The Marion Superior Court allowed the evidence, and Indiana Court of Appeals in a divided opinion held the officers had reasonable suspicion that Jacobs was guilty of an offense because they could see the outline of the gun, because they believed he was a truant juvenile, and because he repeatedly tried to run away each time an officer came near him.  Jacobs was convicted of carrying a handgun without a license.

Monika Talbot, a deputy attorney general who argued on behalf of the state, presented a similar argument to the high court, noting that while the individual circumstances that led to Jacobs’ arrest might not create reasonable suspicion on their own, taken together they indicated to officers that the 18-year-old could be guilty of an offense.

There were two main factors that gave officers reasonable suspicion, Talbot said – Jacobs’ presence in the high-crime area where officers were investigating a previous shooting, and the fact they believed he was truant. But the justices struggled with the truancy argument, noting that Jacobs first came under surveillance at 2 p.m., yet he was not arrested until 4 p.m., a time when school would have already been out. Additionally, Justice Robert Rucker noted that truancy is not a criminal offense, nor is wearing red associated with belonging to a gang.

Talbot agreed with Rucker, but said the primary reason the officer was investigating the area where Jacobs was found was due to a shooting in the area a few days earlier. There had been multiple police runs to that area, Talbot said, and many of the police calls were related to young men in a gang wearing red.

But Bedwell said the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to order Jacobs to stop, so the constitutional violation began once they gave that order. Justice Geoffrey Slaughter asked Bedwell if the fact that police believed Jacobs was truant made a difference to the reasonable suspicion standard, but the attorney said it did not because the officers did not have evidence to back up that belief, other than the fact that they thought he looked young.

If the officers had a good-faith belief that Jacobs was a truant, Justice Mark Massa asked Bedwell if they had the right under existing case law to pursue him when he fled. But Bedwell said the officers never even established that good-faith belief because they presented no objective evidence to prove Jacobs, who was 18 at the time, was a truant.

But Talbot said that Jacobs had turned 18 just three weeks before his arrest, supporting her argument that officers had reasonable suspicion to believe he was truant and to stop him for that “legal wrongdoing.” Rucker noted that citizens have the right to walk away when police officers approach, but Talbot told the court that because the officers had reasonable suspicion that Jacobs was involved in criminal activity, they had a duty to stop him.

The full oral arguments for Jordan Jacobs v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1601-CR-00019, can be viewed here

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