COA reverses delinquent adjudication based on warrantless search

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A teenager who was adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent after an officer conducted a warrantless search and found him in possession of a handgun and drug paraphernalia will have his adjudication reversed after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct the search without a warrant.

After receiving a dispatch about a suspicious male approaching females in a Kroger parking lot, Avon Police Department Lt. Robert Paris arrived at the store and saw a male who fit the man’s description. The man, later identified as K.G., was carrying two backpacks, and Paris suspected he was a runaway.

When Paris got out of his car and asked K.G. to stop, K.G. told the lieutenant he was not a runaway and that the backpacks belonged to a friend named “Jacob,” though he could not provide Jacob’s last name, address or phone number. Paris then decided for his own safety to pat down K.G. and he immediately located a box of ammunition in K.G.’s pocket.

Paris then handcuffed K.G., searched his backpacks and founded a loaded handgun containing the same type of ammunition, as well as two soda bottles filled with alcohol and a pipe with burnt marijuana residue. The state subsequently filed a petition alleging K.G., who was almost 17 at the time of his encounter with Paris, was a delinquent for committing acts that would have been Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license, Class C misdemeanor illegal possession of an alcoholic beverage and Class C misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia, if committed by an adult.

At a related fact-finding hearing, K.G. moved to suppress the evidence found during the pat-down and search of his backpacks, arguing Paris’ searches were warrantless and in violation of K.G.’s state and federal constitutional rights. But after hearing testimony from Paris, the Hendricks Superior Court denied the motion and entered true findings that K.G. was a delinquent.

K.G. was placed in the Indiana Department of Correction, but on appeal in K.G. v. State of Indiana, 32A01-1611-JV-2590, he argued the juvenile court abused its discretion by admitting the evidence obtained during the searches at his delinquency hearing. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, with Judge Melissa May writing Monday that “(n)one of Lt. Paris’s testimony creates particularized reasonable suspicion that Lt. Paris’s safety was in danger because of K.G. or that K.G. was ‘an armed and dangerous individual’ prior to Lt. Paris finding the ammunition in K.G.’s pocket during the pat-down,” as is required for a lawful Terry stop.

“As Lt. Paris needed particularized suspicion before he conducted that pat-down, K.G.’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure was violated by the pat-down, and the juvenile court should have suppressed the evidence collected by Lt. Paris during and following the pat-down,” May wrote. “As such, there was no admissible evidence to support K.G.’s adjudication as a delinquent, and we must reverse the adjudication.”

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