Monday, July 28, 2014
Court of Appeal Says Search of Minor’s Backpack Was Illegal
By ANN ANOOSHIAN, Staff Writer
The First District Court of Appeal Friday overturned a juvenile court’s adjudication of guilt, saying the minor’s consent to a search was not voluntarily obtained, but was the product of an illegal detention.
Div. Four, in an opinion by Justice James Humes—who is now presiding justice in Div. One but authored the opinion on assignment to his former division—said evidence seized from the minor, identified as J.G., should have been suppressed.
The testimony at the suppression hearing was that J.G., who was 15 years old at the time of the incident, was approached by an officer as he walked across a parking lot toward his brother. The officer asked the brothers if he could speak to them.
He asked for identification, and for J.G.’s name and birthdate. He asked if he could search their persons, to which they consented, and nothing illegal was found.
At this point the officer asked if the brothers would have a seat on the curb. He then asked to search J.G.’s backpack, which led to discovery of a pistol.
J.G. was arrested and he moved to suppress the pistol from being introduced into evidence. The trial court denied his motion.
After a hearing, J.G. was found guilty of a felony, possessing a concealed firearm as a minor.
Humes said the encounter amounted to a detention, noting the parties’ agreement that the officer did not have a reasonable and objective articulable suspicion that J.G. had committed or was about to commit a crime, until the pistol was discovered, and that there could not have been a legal search of the backpack independent of the legality of a detention.
Humes cited Florida v. Bostick’s holding that a seizure of a person implicating the Fourth Amendment occurs “‘when [a police] officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.’”
Whether a reasonable person would believe he or she was free to leave must be evaluated from all the circumstances surrounding the encounter. Factors such as the presence of several or more officers, the length of the encounter, an officer’s apparent suspicion of unlawful behavior, any physical contact, and the age of the person, must be considered.
Humes concluded J.G. was detained. Although the encounter was initially consensual, he wrote, as the encounter continued, J.G.’s person was searched, police presence increased to four officers, three patrol cars, suspicion of criminal behavior was expressed, and finally, J.G. was “asked” to sit on the curb, prior to a “consent” search of his backpack.
The court held the ensuing search of J.G.’s backpack violated the Fourth Amendment, and the juvenile court’s denial of J.G.’s motion to suppress was therefore improper.
The case is In re J.G., 14 S.O.S. 3901.
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