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Conviction Reversed Due to Bad Search Warrant

A search warrant is a judicial authorization to search a person or place. To be valid, a search warrant must be supported by probable cause to suspect that the search may reveal evidence of a crime. The probable cause is alleged within an affidavit presented to a judge or magistrate when seeking the warrant. In the recent Tennessee case of State v Hall, M2013-02841-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 10-3-2014), the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the affidavit describing a controlled drug buy at a residence within seventy-two hours did not establish probable cause to support an issued warrant to search that residence and the people present there.

In the Hall case, the defendant pled guilty to possession with intent to sell twenty-six grams or more of cocaine within one-thousand feet of a school. The trial court had denied the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence obtained against him. The evidence had been obtained pursuant to a search warrant. As part of the plea agreement, the defendant reserved the right to appeal the trial court ruling upholding the warrant.

The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court ruling upholding the warrant and dismissed the case against the defendant (as the case depended upon the admissibility of the evidence obtained with the warrant).

The Court noted that although the affidavit supporting the warrant described a controlled drug buy (using a confidential informant) within the previous seventy-two hours at the residence to be searched, the affidavit did not contain specific information indicating the identity of the person who sold the drugs, whether he or she was a resident of the residence where it occurred, or whether any other illegal contraband had been observed within the residence other than the drugs which were provided to the confidential informant. The Court concluded that without more information within the affidavit about who had sold the drugs, whether the person resided at the residence to be searched, or whether other illegal contraband was observed there, the affidavit did not support the issuance of the warrant.

For more information on what may or may not be probable cause to support a search, contact Hindman & Associates.

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