Search of Student’s Backpack Illegal

This case represents the principle that the police cannot stop and hold someone without cause and later search them and use the evidence they find against them. Here, the Police stopped 15-year-old J.G. and his brother D.G., for a “consensual encounter.” J.G. was carrying a backpack. They were asked for identification and D.G. produced an ID card from another country. J.G. responded he had no identification. They responded “no” when asked if they possessed anything illegal. They allowed an officer to search them; nothing was found. Other officers arrived at the scene. The brothers were asked to sit on the curb. J.G. was asked if officers could search his backpack and he agreed. A gun was found and J.G. was arrested. A Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 petition was filed alleging possession of a concealed gun and other offenses. The minor’s motion to suppress evidence was denied. The court found the gun allegation true and the minor appealed. Held: Reversed. Under the Fourth Amendment, if a warrantless search is based on consent, it must be shown the consent was freely given and not a mere submission to authority. Here, what commenced as a consensual encounter ripened into a detention as the officer’s suspicions continued without apparent reason, the encounter became more intrusive, additional police arrived, J.G. was asked if he possessed anything illegal, police ran a records check on him, and he was searched. By the time police asked J.G. to sit on the curb, a reasonable person in J.G.’s circumstances would not have felt free to leave. The fact the police asked rather than directed J.G. to sit on the curb does not prevent a detention from occurring because, under the circumstances, J.G. felt his compliance was compelled. The gun was the fruit of an illegal detention.

The court discussed whether a “reasonable juvenile” standard should be applied to the determination of whether a reasonable person would have felt free to terminate the encounter. However, it did not resolve whether such a standard was applicable in the context of a detention because it found a reasonable person, regardless of age, would not have felt free to leave. (CCAP).

About thetorranceattorney

Matthew Ruff is a Torrance criminal defense attorney located near the 405 freeway on Crenshaw Blvd. Focusing on DUI and serious criminal cases for over twenty five years. In addition to criminal cases, Matthew also defends clients at the DMV regarding license suspension hearings stemming from drunk driving arrests.
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2 Responses to Search of Student’s Backpack Illegal

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