Firearm delinquency adjudication overturned for insufficient evidence

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a delinquency adjudication after determining there was insufficient evidence to prove that a teenager illegally possessed a handgun.

Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote the Thursday opinion reversing B.R.’s adjudication in B.R. v. State of Indiana, 20A-JV-1203.

B.R., then 17 years old, encountered Indianapolis police in October 2019 when the Chevrolet Impala he was driving was stopped for failing to properly signal a turn and failing to fully stop at a stop sign. However, the officer involved, Nicholas Snow, later admitted he lied to B.R. and his passenger, K.W., by informing them that he pulled them over because the vehicle – which belonged to K.W.’s parent – may have been involved with a domestic dispute that Snow was investigating. At the time of the stop, K.W. was intoxicated.

Snow smelled marijuana when he approached the vehicle, and he discovered that B.R. had never been issued a driver’s license. When Officer Corey Shinn arrived to assist, the teens were handcuffed and told to sit on the curb.

Upon removing a panel covering a hollow compartment in the vehicle, Snow found a Glock 19 handgun. However, his search never revealed any marijuana. B.R. was then arrested, but K.W. was not.

The state filed a petition to adjudicate B.R. as a delinquent for various misdemeanors, including Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license. During a fact-finding hearing, Snow testified that he believed he heard B.R. tell another officer that he “just likes guns.”

B.R. was adjudicated delinquent on the handgun charge and a charge of operating a vehicle without a license, a Class C misdemeanor if committed by an adult. He challenged only the handgun adjudication on appeal, and the Court of Appeals reversed Thursday.

The state presented evidence of B.R.’s “capability to maintain dominion and control over the handgun,” Tavitas wrote, but the evidence did not establish his knowledge of the existence of the firearm. The court rejected arguments regarding B.R.’s “furtive movements” during the stop, his alleged comment that he “just likes guns,” and his proximity to the firearm.

“The State has identified no other factors to demonstrate B.R.’s knowledge of the handgun,” Tavitas wrote. “The State failed to provide ‘additional circumstances’ to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that B.R. knew of the concealed handgun.

“Although the State did prove that B.R. had the capability to exercise ‘dominion and control’ over the concealed handgun, it failed to prove that B.R. possessed the intent to do so,” she continued. “… Accordingly, the State failed to prove that B.R. constructively possessed the handgun, and, therefore, the evidence is insufficient to sustain B.R.’s adjudication for carrying a handgun without a license.”

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