Recent Legal News-Tennessee Supreme Court Adopts Limited Good Faith Exception to Illegal Searches

On December 19, 2016, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted a limited good faith exception for illegal searches. In State v. Lemaricus Davidson, Justice Sharon Lee writing for a unanimous court held that a search which is illegal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 can still yield admissible evidence if the officer serving the illegal search warrant is acting in good faith. In adopting what they call a “limited good faith exception” the court held that evidence may be admissible if the search was illegal under the Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure but that the officer acted in good faith. Here the officer swore the facts alleged in the affidavit in application for the search warrant before a Sessions judge but did not sign the affidavit.

It has been a foundation of our law for centuries that a man’s home is his castle; and in that castle, he is king. The police cannot enter it unless legally instituted rules are followed and probable cause exists that the home contains evidence of a crime. Here the police did not properly conduct their investigation and thus presented an affidavit in support of a search warrant that was unsigned. A signed affidavit makes certain that the Court has before it a signed statement under oath of probable cause that a crime has been committed and that evidence of that crime is within the home to be searched.

The founding fathers in America were subjected to general searches by the English King’s men at any time and for any reason that they wanted. The founders wanted to make sure that such searches did not occur any longer under the new government. The founders did not trust the government or its men. That is why these rules, which some mistakenly refer to as technicalities, are in place and need to be followed zealously.

The Court stressed that it was not ruling that a good faith exception exists if the search violated either the United States or the Tennessee constitution. The United States Supreme Court allowed such a good faith exception to an unconstitutional search several years ago in the United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984).

Doug Trant, a partner in our firm, represented Mr. Davidson at trial along with co-counsel David Eldridge. Mr. Davidson received the death penalty and is currently on death row in Tennessee. Mr. Trant and Mr. Eldridge were appointed by the court to represent Mr. Davidson, as our constitution assures to individuals charged with a crime.

Counsel are required to raise any issue whether constitutional, procedural, or factual that exists under the evidence. That is precisely what happened in this particular case and with its search issue. Counsel for the defendant did not create the error committed by the police, but were required to raise the error in court and to litigate it fully. Mr. Davidson will be able to continue to try to raise any errors as he pursues his post conviction options in both the Tennessee State Courts and the United States District Courts for either the Eastern or Middle Tennessee Districts. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of the United States will have the final word on all of these issues.