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Search and Seizure: Inevitable Discovery

November 03, 2014

Search and Seizure: Inevitable Discovery

Case:   State of Tennessee v. Thomas Lee Hutchison

Issue:   Whether the inevitable discovery doctrine applied to the search of the defendant’s home.

Facts:  Following a report of a shooting, officers entered the defendant’s home.  The officers found the defendant in the living room bleeding and went upstairs where they found the body of an individual that allegedly had been murdered by the defendant.  Other officers arrived at the house to process the crime scene.  In plain view, officers found a number of items including the alleged murder weapon.  However, a knife handle, a sweatshirt and a ring were not in plain view but were located by other officers following a more detailed search of the premises.

Appellate Decision:  The intermediate court found that the initial entry of the dwelling was justified by exigent circumstances given the emergency of the moment.  The later search for other possible victims justified the seizure of items which were clearly in plain view.  The court also found that the inevitable discovery doctrine applied to the items which were not found in plain view.  The court reasoned that given the circumstances the officers would have had probable cause to search the dwelling in a known homicide scene with a body present and the police would have had probable cause to support a search warrant had they sought to obtain one.  Therefore, the intermediate appellate court held that the inevitable discovery doctrine applied to the admission of the knife handle, sweatshirt and ring, even though there was not a search warrant for these items.

Review Granted:  October 20, 2014.

Prediction:  David thinks the Supreme Court will reverse.  The intermediate appellate court relied on a case which applied the inevitable discovery doctrine to the seizure of a truck.  Here, we have the search of a dwelling.  To apply the intermediate appellate court’s reasoning to a dwelling would mean that virtually any homicide crime scene is “fair game” for the police to inspect at will without a search warrant.  In light of the heightened expectation of privacy in a person’s dwelling the search here cannot be justified.   There is simply no reason a search warrant was ignored and thus the full weight of the exclusionary rule will be applied to these items.  David predicts that the Supreme Court will insist that warrants be utilized in crime scene investigations in the absence of an emergency.