Despite testimony discrepancies, delinquency affirmed

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a child’s delinquency adjudication, finding there was sufficient evidence to prove he was in possession of a firearm while fleeing police.

In October 2017, Indianapolis police officers responded to a report that a juvenile had stolen a vehicle and a firearm from his parents. Upon finding a vehicle that matched the description with three occupants inside, J.S. ran from the vehicle and was pursued on foot by an officer through a residential area.

While fleeing, the officer found a black gun on the ground near where the J.S. ran. The boy was later apprehended a few blocks away and arrested. At some point, law enforcement recovered contraband from the center console of the stolen vehicle.

After a denial hearing, the juvenile court entered true findings for dangerous possession of a firearm and resisting law enforcement. J.S. was adjudicated a delinquent child and placed on probation with a suspended commitment to the Indiana Department of Correction.

On appeal, J.S. contested the sufficiency of the evidence for his dangerous possession of a firearm conviction. 

“According to J.S., a theory of actual possession cannot support his true finding because he ‘was not found in direct physical control of the gun,’” appellate judge Mark L. Bailey wrote for the panel.

“Yet, the evidence favorable to the adjudication indicates that law enforcement found a black firearm along the route J.S. took when he fled — shortly after Officer (Nicholas) Snow saw J.S. clutching a black object, and suspected the object was a firearm.”

But J.S. minimized the evidence against him, arguing that it established a possibility J.S. may have possessed a firearm, but falls far short of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He also argued he could have fled the vehicle because he knew drugs would be discovered and that the black object in his hand might have been a cell phone, not a gun.

Lastly, he contended that exculpatory evidence found J.S. was “excluded … as the source” of fingerprints found on the firearm.

“Yet, we cannot reweigh the evidence, from which a reasonable fact-finder could conclude — beyond a reasonable doubt — that when J.S. fled from the vehicle, he knowingly and actually possessed the black firearm recovered along his route,” Bailey continued. “Thus, we conclude that there is sufficient evidence to support the true finding.”

Judge Melissa May concurred in a separate opinion, noting the discrepancy between Officer Snow’s testimony at trial and his probable cause affidavit in regard to whether he believed to J.S. was holding a gun in his hand when he fled from the passenger side of the vehicle.

“As a result of the failure to point out the difference between Officer Snow’s account of the incident in the Probable Cause Affidavit and his testimony at trial, the only evidence heard by the trial court judge was that Officer Snow observed a black object, which he believed to be a gun, in J.S.’s hand,” May wrote.

The case is J.S. v. State of Indiana, 18A-JV-826.


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