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In Re A.J.;

March 28, 2013


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DEL-608-11) (Hon. Maribeth Raffinan, Motions Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Senior Judge:

(Argued February 21, 2013

Before THOMPSON and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and SCHWELB, Senior Judge.

On March 16, 2011, the District of Columbia instituted a juvenile delinquency proceeding in which A.J., who was then fifteen years of age, was charged with unlawful possession of a BB gun. A.J.‟s counsel filed a pretrial motion to suppress an oral statement in which A.J. admitted, in response to a single question from the officer who had detained him, that he (A.J.) had a BB gun on his person. A.J. also asked the court to suppress the weapon itself.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge rejected a claim by A.J., based on the Fourth Amendment, that the police had detained him without reasonable suspicion that he had committed a criminal offense, and that the evidence was therefore the product of an unconstitutional seizure. The judge held, however, that A.J.‟s incriminating statement was obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and she granted A.J.‟s motion to suppress the statement. The judge then added: "I think it would follow that the recovery of the BB gun would also be suppressed."*fn1 The District filed a petition for reconsideration, which the judge denied following a second hearing.*fn2

The District now appeals, contending, inter alia, that A.J. was not in custody for Miranda purposes at the time that he made the statement, and that therefore there was no violation of Miranda. We conclude that on this record, no person of A.J.‟s age, and in his circumstances, could reasonably have believed that he was under arrest or its equivalent. Accordingly, we agree with the District that A.J. was not in custody, and we therefore reverse.



A. The evidence.

Officer Christopher Parsons of the Metropolitan Police Department was the sole witness at the hearing on A.J.‟s motion. Parsons testified that at approximately 11.30 A.M. on March 15, 2011, a weekday, he was driving his vehicle in northwest Washington, D.C., when he saw A.J. and a companion crossing the street. Both young men appeared to be approximately fifteen or sixteen years old, and thus of school age and possible truants. Parsons stopped and spoke to the young men from inside his car. In response to a question from the officer, the teenagers stated that they were going up the street. Parsons then pulled up directly in front of A.J. and his companion, and he inquired why they were not in school. The young man who was with A.J. produced a document showing that he had been suspended from school, and he departed after Officer Parsons advised him that he was free to leave. Id.

Officer Parsons then turned to A.J., who told the officer that he was sixteen years old; that although he lived in the District, he attended school in Virginia; and that he was not at school on that day because of "transportation problems." A.J. gave Officer Parsons his parents‟ telephone number or numbers, but Parsons called and was unable to reach a parent. Parsons testified that in conformity with customary procedure, he could not let A.J. go without obtaining further information regarding whether A.J., who appeared to be under the age of sixteen, was a truant. Officer Parsons therefore told A.J. that since A.J. had said that he lived nearby, he (the officer) would try driving by A.J.‟s father‟s house. Then, according to the officer,

I advised him, well, we‟re going to go down to the house. We‟re going to go over to my car and I‟m going to put him in the car. As I got to the back of the car, I asked him did he have anything on him I needed to know about. And he reached into his inside [jacket] pocket and said "yeah, I got this," and he pulled out a black BB gun.

Officer Parsons did not read A.J. his rights under Miranda prior to asking him the foregoing question.

On cross-examination, Officer Parsons acknowledged that A.J. was cooperative, and that there was no indication that A.J. was involved in any "nefarious criminal activity." When asked whether he had intended to search A.J., Parsons answered that "at some point in time, yeah, [A.J.] would have been patted down," because "before you put someone in the back of the transport, [you] pat them [sic] down. But before I patted him down, I asked him."

B. The arguments of counsel and the trial court's ruling.

In his motion to suppress, A.J.‟s attorney claimed that the stop of his client was unlawful, but he did not raise any issue under Miranda. At the hearing, however, in closing argument following the completion of Officer Parsons‟ testimony, he further contended that A.J.‟s statement, as well as the weapon recovered from A.J. following that statement, ...

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