Commonwealth v. Evelyn

Tykorie Evelyn, a 17-year-old Black youth, was walking alone one evening when a patrol car pulled up beside him with two white uniformed police officers. As Tykorie continued walking, the officers followed him for about 100 yards, asking him questions through the car’s window. Upon not hearing a direct response, one of the officers got out of the vehicle, at which point Tykorie began to run and was subsequently apprehended and arrested. After the Superior Court denied Tykorie's motions, including to suppress certain evidence and to introduce expert testimony, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted interlocutory review and sua sponte called for amici input on various issues.
Juvenile Law Center, Professor Kristin Henning, and The Committee for Public Counsel Services, Youth Advocacy Division filed an amicus brief in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in support of Tykorie. We argued that courts must consider the unique intersectionality of youth and race when applying the Fourth Amendment reasonable person analysis for seizures. Specifically, we argued that the combination of Tykorie’s age, developmental status, and race affected his perception of the police encounter and that a reasonable Black youth would have felt compelled to either submit to police contact or act to avoid the encounter given the well documented history of police as instigators and instruments of oppression, violence, and harassment against Black youth.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held the Fourth Amendment seizure occurred at the moment the officer opened his cruiser door. However, the court declined to decide whether a defendant’s race informs the seizure inquiry. Additionally, specifically acknowledging the briefs of amici curiae, the court reaffirmed and extended its reasoning regarding the relevance of race on the question of reasonable suspicion as articulated in Commonwealth v. Warren, 475 Mass. 530 (2016), which held that “an innocent African-American man in an urban area might flee from police for fear of racial profiling, and therefore the weight of the inference properly given to flight should be less when the individual is African-American.” The court concluded that “this reasoning remains pertinent to the reasonable suspicion analysis, and should be extended to other types of nervous or evasive behavior in addition to flight.”