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New Tennessee Law Lessens Search Warrant Requirements

August 01, 2011

New Tennessee Law Lessens Search Warrant Requirements

A new Tennessee law went into effect July 1, 2011 for the purpose of relaxing the requirements for search warrants. Courts in Tennessee have long upheld the simple yet strict rules for obtaining and executing search warrants in criminal cases. Such rules are in place to safeguard an individual’s rights during a criminal investigation. However, law enforcement officials have been expressing a major concern with the search warrant requirements. Their concern is that minor errors, such as an innocent typo, could allow criminals to avoid serious charges due to the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule disallows the use any evidence obtained when an individual’s constitutional rights are violated and therefore cannot be used by prosecutors in a criminal trial.
Victor Torry Johnson, the Nashville District Attorney General, contends the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act is necessary and allows for a more practical approach to search warrants. He further stressed his concern that clerical errors or mistakes that are completely unrelated to the underlying probable cause could invalidate otherwise legitimate evidence. A case that highlights the effects of the exclusionary rule occurred in 2007 when a Tennessee man received a 29-year prison sentence for possession of “bricks” of marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and 400 grams of cocaine. However, upon the discovery of a typo in the search warrant in the court of appeals, the evidence was thrown out and the man’s conviction was reversed.
The Exclusionary Rule Reform Act (HB 401) is the new law adopted by the Tennessee legislature and is aimed at loosening the state’s exclusionary rule. The new legislation allows evidence acquired with an erroneous search warrant to be admissible in a criminal prosecution, so long as the errors are a result of a “good faith mistake or technical violation.” Therefore, evidence is not admitted notwithstanding the degree of error in the search warrant. Likewise, the evidence must be permissible in court and accessible to the prosecution in all other regards.
David Raybin, a criminal defense attorney in Nashville, Tennessee for Hollins, Raybin and Weissman, sat on the first statewide judicial rules committee and acknowledges the consequences for breaking the rules. Raybin explained how a simple mistake such a failing to knock on someone’s door before executing a search warrant could result in a judge suppressing all the evidence acquired from a warrant. “You have these simple rules, and they have simple consequences.” Raybin expects other states to develop similar laws regarding search warrants and suggests that such a trend may reveal a lessening of basic fundamental values. Siding with Raybin is Jeffrey Henry, the executive director of the Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference. Henry argues that the new law decreases the degree to which individual rights are recognized and will cause many people to question the judicial system.
Additionally, Tennessee is not the only state empowering prosecutors. A California bill is developing that in cases of suspected movie and music pirating would allow police to perform searches without a warrant. Similarly, a Florida law aimed at regulating pain clinics that overprescribe medication would also allow law enforcement officials to perform searches of clinic records without a warrant. Moreover, a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion gave law enforcement officials throughout the U.S. more freedom to search individual residences without a warrant. However, despite these similar regulations, it remains uncertain what effect the new legislation will have on criminal proceedings in Tennessee. It will also continue to be important that attorneys examine cases where evidence is produced with a search warrant to determine if a genuine and material issue exists in regard to a warrant error.
The Exclusionary Rule Reform Act (HB 401)

Nashville Criminal Attorney Explains: New Search Warrant Law in Tennessee

Posted By: Eston Whiteside