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Warrantless Search of Residence

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CaseState of Tennessee v. James Robert Christensen, Jr.

Issue:  Did officers need a search warrant to enter the property bearing a “no trespassing” sign while investigating an active meth lab?

Facts:  Law enforcement went to Defendant’s residence on suspicion that he was producing methamphetamine. Officers testified they smelled an odor associated with meth production and questioned Defendant outside the residence. Defendant refused a search, but officers decided to investigate for “safety reasons” and located a meth lab. Defendant moved to suppress the search since he posted “no trespassing” signs on his property, but was ultimately convicted.

Appellate Decision:  The intermediate court affirmed the conviction. The court noted that our Supreme Court has rejected a bright-line rule that “no trespassing” signs preclude a “knock and talk” by revoking the implied invitation of the front door. Looking at the overall reasonableness of the officers’ actions, the court held that the particular sign in this case was insufficient to revoke an implied invitation to come to the front door. Judge Williams, dissenting in part, wrote that the sign was a “clear expression” of Defendant’s intention to exclude people from his property, and the officers should simply have gotten a search warrant.

Review Granted:  September 22, 2015.

Prediction:  The Supreme Court’s order granting review expressed interest in the following issued: “(1) the effect, if any, of the ‘unlicensed physical intrusion’ definition of a search as articulated in Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013); and (2) if the officers’ entry into the curtilage of Mr. Christensen’s home constituted a search, whether it was supported by probable cause and the existence of exigent circumstances.” Ben thinks the Court will reverse for the reasons stated in the dissent: “no trespassing” does not mean “some trespassing.”

For further reading on “knock and talks,” see David Raybin’s 2007 Tennessee Bar Journal Cover Story: Who’s There? The Parameters of Police “Knock and Talk” Tactics