Search Warrants in Child Porn Cases

CaseState of Tennessee v. Anthony Jerome Miller

Issue:  Can only District Attorneys obtain a search warrant in child pornography cases?

Facts:  A police officer obtained a search warrant for a child pornography investigation after obtaining “verbal permission” from an Assistant District Attorney. The Defendant moved to suppress the evidence collected on the basis that it was collected in violation of TCA 39-17-1007, which provides that “no process, except as otherwise provided, shall be issued [for a child pornography offense] unless it is issued upon the application of the district attorney general of the district.” The trial court declined to suppress the evidence as non-compliant with the statute.

Appellate Decision:  The intermediate court affirmed and held that the search warrant was compliant with the statute. The court first held that the word “process” in the statute refers to other matters, namely injunctions and civil forfeiture provisions which are contained in the

preceding and subsequent statutes, and not to search warrants. Moreover, because the statute includes the language “except as otherwise provided,” the search was valid because it was authorized by Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(a).

Review Granted:  November 16, 2017.

Prediction:  Ben thinks that the supreme court is likely to affirm but only based on the “except as otherwise provided” argument. As for the “process” issue, nothing in the plain language of TCA 39-17-1007 suggests it should be limited to only injunctions and civil forfeitures. Indeed, the civil forfeiture statute in 39-17-1008 was passed years after -1007. Moreover, the injunction procedure in -1006 is extremely detailed and it does not seem logical that the legislature would have included a single additional sentence applicable only to that statute in an entirely different statute. Also, -1007 states that process must issue upon “application” of the district attorney whereas -1006 refers to a “petition.”

David disagrees with Ben and thinks the supreme court will reverse the full decision. Because other offenses such as drug crimes are more objective, an official “blessing” for a search warrant by the District Attorney is unnecessary. However, a search warrant for computer images is highly subjective and thus more easily obtained, so direct prosecutorial supervision is appropriate for all warrants and process under all these statutes. Given the required strict construction of criminal statutes, David thinks the supreme court will reverse.

ABOUT Ben Raybin
Ben Raybin

A Nashville native, Ben began his legal career with Raybin & Weissman after graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2010.

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