State v. Lewis, SC 20002

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtD'AURIA, J.
Citation333 Conn. 543,217 A.3d 576
Parties STATE of Connecticut v. Demetrice L. LEWIS
Docket NumberSC 20002
Decision Date29 October 2019

333 Conn. 543
217 A.3d 576

STATE of Connecticut
v.
Demetrice L. LEWIS

SC 20002

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued January 18, 2019
Officially released October 29, 2019


217 A.3d 580

Laila M. G. Haswell, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

Mitchell S. Brody, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Patrick J. Griffin, state's attorney, and Karen A. Roberg, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

Robinson, C.J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins and Ecker, Js.

D'AURIA, J.

333 Conn. 546

The facts of this case implicate governmental and privacy interests that courts struggle to reconcile. This court is no exception. On this record, there is no question that the defendant, Demetrice L. Lewis, illegally possessed a pistol. Responding to a report of a domestic violence incident, a police officer encountered the defendant. On the basis of a description of the perpetrator and other attendant circumstances, the police officer believed that the defendant might have been the perpetrator who, only minutes

333 Conn. 547

earlier, had

217 A.3d 581

choked a woman and broken a window in her apartment. On that basis, the officer approached the defendant, attempted to ask him questions, and patted him down pursuant to Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968). During this patdown, the police officer discovered the pistol and seized it after a brief struggle.

It turned out that the defendant was not the perpetrator. Rather, he was essentially minding his own business, standing in the rain with no one else around at 4:20 a.m., talking on his cell phone. However odd this behavior might appear to some, in this country, an individual enjoys the right to act in this manner undisturbed by the police unless the police have reasonable and articulable suspicion that he is involved in or about to be involved in criminal activity.

It is the solemn responsibility of our courts to ensure that when the police intrude on a person's privacy or liberty, they do so in strict adherence to the requirements of Terry . To ensure that the police have not overreached when they conduct investigatory stops, we require that the state articulate its justification so that a court may review it for objective reasonableness. Although this is a lower standard than probable cause, it is important that courts apply it vigilantly to guarantee that the police indeed have justification for even limited intrusions, and to guard against arbitrariness and harassment. The police cannot retroactively justify an investigatory stop and patdown on the ground that the patdown resulted in the discovery of illegal contraband.

In this case, we are once again confronted with the ill-defined notion of a "high crime neighborhood." We have noted in the past how this imprecise shorthand challenges—indeed, can undercut—our ability to apply it to a standard of suspicion that is meant to require circumspection before justifying a governmental interference

333 Conn. 548

with constitutionally protected interests. See State v. Edmonds , 323 Conn. 34, 69, 145 A.3d 861 (2016) ("cautioning that high crime area justification is easily subject to abuse" [internal quotation marks omitted] ). Too often, reliance on the nature of the neighborhood too easily justifies intrusions on those who happen to reside in neighborhoods plagued by crime, which courts have recognized are inhabited predominantly by those with low incomes and disproportionately by minorities. See id., at 83–84, 145 A.3d 861 (Robinson, J. , concurring). We have recognized that it is inappropriate that the poor and minorities come under suspicion, at least in part, because of their own surroundings, while those of greater wealth and majority status, although engaged in the same conduct, are less likely to suffer these intrusions and their accompanying indignities. See id., at 83–85, 145 A.3d 861 (Robinson, J. , concurring).

We cannot ignore the fact that in the present case, the officer and the state, in part, justified the stop of the defendant on the basis of the reputation of the neighborhood.1 Nor is that the only circumstance that challenges us in this case. The officer also testified that he "pat[s] everybody down." As we and the Chief Justice, in his concurring opinion, indicate, this is plainly an unacceptable and improper approach to law enforcement.

The officer was not, however, on routine patrol on general watch for those who might be acting illegally. Rather, he was

217 A.3d 582

responding to a 911 call from a victim reporting a domestic assault—specifically, that she had been choked by a male with whom she had been spending time. Within minutes, the officer was on the scene in search of the perpetrator, whose description the officer reasonably determined matched that of the defendant.

333 Conn. 549

It is easy for a court to question the officer's conclusions and actions. Indeed, that is our job. It is easier still to suggest that the officer could have or should have done something else, or even that a different course of action would have been more logical or more reasonable. That is not our job. Thus, in the present case, we do not determine whether the officer could have taken a less intrusive course of action but, rather, determine whether his actions—stopping the defendant and patting him down—were supported by reasonable and articulable suspicion.

The defendant contends that the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress the gun on the ground that his seizure and subsequent patdown were lawful under both the fourth amendment to the United States constitution and article first, §§ 7 and 9, of the Connecticut constitution. Specifically, he claims that the Appellate Court improperly concluded that the trial court correctly determined that (1) he was not seized until the police officer touched him and performed a patdown search for weapons, (2) the officer had reasonable and articulable suspicion that he had committed a crime, and (3) the officer had reasonable and articulable suspicion that he might be armed and dangerous. Although we recognize the unique challenges that this case raises, we disagree with the defendant's claims and conclude that the seizure and subsequent patdown of the defendant were lawful. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The following facts, as found in the record, and procedural history are relevant to our consideration of the claims on appeal. On May 25, 2013, at approximately 4:16 a.m., a woman called New Haven 911 to report a domestic assault on Derby Avenue in New Haven. The 911 caller informed the 911 dispatcher that approximately

333 Conn. 550

fifteen minutes earlier,2 a thirty-two year old black man identified as "O,"3 whom she had been "dealing with,"4 had broken a window in her apartment and choked her. Although the victim stated that she did not need an ambulance, her assailant choked her hard enough that her throat was sore. She further explained that her assailant had left her home but that, although she could not see her assailant from her window, she could hear him talking, "so, he's around the area." She believed that he was most likely hiding in bushes or other dark places outside in the area. She also stated that she had his state identification. In response to an inquiry

217 A.3d 583

from the 911 dispatcher, the victim stated that the perpetrator did not have any weapons. She described her assailant as wearing a black hoodie, black sweatpants, and a chain around his neck. She stated that she believed that he also wore a fitted orange and grey hat. She did not give any additional details about the hat, such as, for example, whether the hat was predominantly more orange than grey or vice versa.

At approximately 4:19 a.m., police officers were dispatched to Derby Avenue to respond to the 911 call, which was reported as a domestic violence incident

333 Conn. 551

involving choking. The police dispatcher5 described the perpetrator as a black male, "O," who was dressed in all black clothing and was believed to be outside the victim's home in bushes nearby because the victim had stated that she could hear him outside in the area. At the time of the dispatch call, Officer Milton DeJesus was patrolling the area, with which he was very familiar,6 in a marked patrol vehicle and was approximately one quarter mile from Derby Avenue. Being in close proximity, he responded to the call and proceeded toward Derby Avenue. Approximately one minute after the dispatch call, while en route to Derby Avenue, Officer DeJesus observed the defendant, a black male in dark clothing, standing in a parking lot area to the right of a market at 1494 Chapel Street, which is near the corner of...

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1 practice notes
  • State v. Goldsmith, A-77-20
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 5, 2022
    ...United States v. De Castro, 905 F.3d 676, 679 (3d Cir. 2018); United States v. Cloud, 994 F.3d 233, 242 (4th Cir. 2021); State v. Lewis, 217 A.3d 576, 588 (Conn. 2019); Bailey v. State, 987 A.2d 72, 82 (Md. 2010). None of these factors are determinative. Instead, we consider the totality of......
1 cases
  • State v. Goldsmith, A-77-20
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 5, 2022
    ...United States v. De Castro, 905 F.3d 676, 679 (3d Cir. 2018); United States v. Cloud, 994 F.3d 233, 242 (4th Cir. 2021); State v. Lewis, 217 A.3d 576, 588 (Conn. 2019); Bailey v. State, 987 A.2d 72, 82 (Md. 2010). None of these factors are determinative. Instead, we consider the totality of......

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