Police officers knocking on the door

Understanding Search and Seizure Laws in Tennessee

Law Offices of Fisher Wise July 4, 2023

Being charged with a crime can be a terrifying event, and trying to figure out your rights and options can be a daunting task on your own. If you’ve been charged with a crime following a search and seizure in Tennessee and need a skilled criminal defense attorney, call me, Fisher Wise, at the Law Offices of Fisher Wise in Chattanooga. I aim to create the best possible defense while supporting you every step of the way. 

In many cases, your attorney will examine whether your Fourth Amendment rights were violated during a search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment grants you protection from “unreasonable” search and seizure, and your attorney may be able to convince a judge to exclude evidence against you if they can argue that the search was “unreasonable.” 

Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution proclaims that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

This means that the police, under federal law, cannot search you or anything on your person (such as your purse, backpack, etc.) without a warrant, and that warrants can only be issued if there is probable cause.  

The Fourth Amendment protects your right to privacy in anywhere you would have what is termed a “reasonable expectation” of privacy, such as your home, your vehicle, your office, your hotel room, etc. However, objects in what is termed “plain view” can create an exception. For example, if an officer sees a bag of drugs on the floor or passenger seat of your car during a legal traffic stop, they will most likely be able to search your vehicle. 

None of these restrictions apply to private security guards at stores, pharmacies, etc., as they are not under the jurisdiction of federal law.  

Warranted Search and Seizure: Probable Cause

When is a search and seizure legal? A search and seizure can proceed when the police believe they have “probable cause” and request a search warrant from a judge. Probable cause is the fact-based belief that someone has committed, or is about to commit, a crime. Police officers can use observational evidence (i.e., anything they see, hear, or smell), evidence compiled through information (such as through a witness or informant), circumstantial evidence, and evidence based on police expertise to determine probable cause.  

Valid Searches and Seizures Without Warrants

Can a search and seizure be legal if there is no warrant? Yes, in some cases. A warrantless search can occur if:

  1. you give consent to the search; or, 

  1. “exigent circumstances” apply. 

Exigent circumstances come into play if the officer believes that warrantless entry or search and seizure is necessary in order to prevent harm to the officer or other people, or to stop the suspect from escaping.   

Understanding the Exclusionary Rule

Generally, any evidence found during an unlawful search and seizure is inadmissible in court. This is called the “exclusionary rule.”  

There are some exceptions to this rule, however. In Tennessee, the “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule applies. If all members of law enforcement involved in the unlawful search and seizure acted in ignorance of its unlawful nature and not through any ill intent, blatant disregard of the rules surrounding search and seizure, or systemic error, the evidence may become admissible.  

Evidence against you may also become admissible if an officer stops you unlawfully but, during that stop, finds out that there is a warrant out for your arrest. An arrest warrant can act as an exception to the exclusionary rule if the officer finds anything incriminating on your person following that arrest. 

Seek Advice From an Experienced Attorney

Tennessee search and seizure laws can be thorny and confusing. Furthermore, proving that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated can prove a formidable task on your own.  

If you’ve been charged with a crime following a search and seizure in Tennessee, contact me, Fisher Wise, at the Law Offices of Fisher Wise, serving Chattanooga, Tennessee, and all surrounding counties (including Bledsoe County, Bradley County, Hamilton County, Marion County, Meigs County, Rhea County, and Sequatchie County).  

I bring my extensive experience as a defense attorney and litigator in civil and criminal courts to every client, and I will work with you to determine your best options and support you throughout your case. Call me today for a consultation.