Court: DPD had insufficient grounds to search boy wearing…
Colorado’s second-highest court found that two Denver officers needed more justification to search a juvenile than the fact he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the summer, and consequently, the drugs discovered on the boy should not have been allowed as evidence. Based on that unlawful search, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals on Thursday
reversed the adjudication of delinquency — the juvenile equivalent of a conviction — for a minor identified as J.D.L.
Officer Frank Capolungo and Sgt. John Nelson saw J.D.L. jaywalking across Colfax Avenue. They made a U-turn to contact the boy because of two factors: J.D.L. was wearing jeans and a
hoodie in July and happened to be in a “high crime” area. Nelson, from his experience, believed those were indicators that a person was concealing weapons or drugs.
After Nelson told J.D.L. that the boy had to cross at an intersection, he asked if J.D.L. had a weapon. J.D.L. responded in the negative, and Nelson conducted a pat-down search. He found a small bag of what appeared to be cocaine in the boy’s hoodie.
Nelson later testified he had searched J.D.L. without asking in order to ascertain, for safety reasons, that the boy had no weapons on him.
A juvenile court judge determined the officers had a legitimate reason to approach J.D.L. and their search of him was constitutional. The boy was found guilty of possessing a controlled
But the appellate panel agreed with J.D.L. that the court should have suppressed the narcotics evidence. Officers may initiate an investigatory stop if they have a specific reason for suspecting criminal activity, and can conduct a protective search if they reasonably think a person might be armed and dangerous.
“It follows that a person’s presence in a high crime area while wearing baggy clothing is insufficient to create a reasonable suspicion that they are armed and dangerous,” wrote Judge
Neeti Vasant Pawar in the Dec. 16 opinion.
The evidence the juvenile court judge heard, she elaborated, had not established that there was a reasonable suspicion of any danger posed by J.D.L. Prior cases involving police stops
had touched on other factors more favorable to a search, including suspects who interacted with known drug dealers or refused to remove their hands from their pockets. The fact that
officers had observed J.D.L. jaywalking was not a sufficient basis to justify the search.
“Something more than wearing a hoodie in July and being in a high crime area was necessary to create a reasonable suspicion that J.D.L. was armed and dangerous,” Pawar added.
Evidence from an unconstitutional search is not permitted at trial, a practice created by the courts to deter searches and seizures that violate the Fourth Amendment.
A spokesperson for the Denver District Attorney’s Office indicated there was no documentation of J.D.L.’s race.
The Denver Gazette · 20 Dec 2021 · A6 · BY MICHAEL KARLIK
Reprinted from The Denver Gazette