Most appeals of search and seizure evidentiary rulings in criminal cases are appeals by a Defendant after a conviction. However, as these are legal rulings by a trial court, the State has the option of appealing a ruling excluding evidence. In the recent case of State v. Clark, E2009-01795-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 10-24-2011), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed a trial court ruling excluding evidence obtained during the warrantless search of the vehicle of a suspect in the vandalism of a red light camera.
Early one morning in November 2007, Knoxville Police Department patrol officers stopped near the intersection of Broadway and Interstate 640 heard gunshots. There were four shots and the officers believed they were coming from the area of a closed business. As they drove around the building, they observed the Defendant's van exit from behind the building at high speed. The KPD officers stopped the van and took the single occupant into custody. They found two rifle scope lens covers in his coat pocket. The officers could see a rifle bag inside the van. Shell casings were found in the parking lot from where the van had been. Officers noticed that a red light camera had been shot. Upon questioning the Defendant, the Defendant indicated he believed he would be in trouble if he said what he was shooting at. He further explained that he was upset about getting a ticket from a red light camera. With the Defendant secured away from the vehicle, officers searched the van and recovered a Ruger rifle and a box of rifle rounds with four bullets missing.
The Defendant was charged with felony vandalism and reckless endangerment. Eventually, the trial court granted a motion to exclude the evidence recovered from the van, on the basis that the warrantless search of the van was not justified by an exception to the warrant requirement (citing Arizona v. Gant, 129 S.Ct.1710 (2009)). The State appealed. In reversing the trial court, the Court of Criminal Appeals noted that there were two exceptions to the warrant requirement which applied in this case. First, the rifle bag was in the plain view of officers outside the van. Second, the Gant case still allows a warrantless search to occur where it is reasonable to believe that a vehicle contains evidence of the arrest offense.
For more information on whether a particular search and seizure may be reasonable, contact Hindman & Associates.