Tennessee Supreme Court Overturns Longstanding Test Concerning Search Warrants

The Tennessee Supreme Court in State of Tennessee v. Jerry Lewis Tuttle, M2014-00566-SC-R11-CD, seized the opportunity to revisit the continuing vitality of State v. Jacumin, 778 S.W.2d 430 (Tenn. 1989). In Jacumin, the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to follow Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), which adopted a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis for determining whether an affidavit establishes probable cause for a search warrant and employed another test spawning from the United States Supreme Court decisions, Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108 (1964) and Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410 (1969). In Tuttle, around twenty-eight years after Jacumin was decided, the Court explicitly overruled Jacumin and adopted the totality-of-the-circumstances analysis for determining whether an affidavit establishes probable cause for issuance of a warrant under article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution. Applying the totality of the circumstances standard, Tennessee’s highest court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision holding the search warrant invalid which produced marijuana, cocaine, guns, ammunition, and over 1 million dollars cash.

 

The Tennessee Supreme Court rested its decision on a variety of reasons including the benefit of time and review of cases from other jurisdictions applying the totality of the circumstances test. The Court stated that a vast majority of courts in other states have adopted the totality of circumstances analysis which is, in the Court’s opinion, a sufficiently definite standard for assessing probable cause in a search warrant and much better suited to evaluate the practicalities that underlie the probable cause inquiry.  While the basis of knowledge and veracity remain relevant under the totality-of-the-circumstances test, these prongs need not be independently established as a result of the Court’s decision.

 

The Court appears to unanimously agree this is an improvement upon the previous test employed in Jacumin by ensuring that an informant’s basis of knowledge and veracity are not viewed as entirely separate prerequisites to probable cause requiring rigid and technical analysis.   However, this decision appears to some as limiting and nearly eradicating constitutional supervision regarding police searches. The rigid and technical analysis mentioned by the Court is often what protected citizens from unwarranted police searches and prevented police from using evidence against the criminally accused that was seized as a result of these unlawful searches.

 

If you think your rights may be affected by this decision and have any questions, please contact our office or your current attorney.

 

Blake Bratcher is an associate at Freeman and Fuson.