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Search and Seizure Laws in Tennessee

Moreland Law Firm Sept. 15, 2023

According to the Crime in Tennessee Report, there were about 502,706 reported Group A offenses statewide in 2021. When the police suspect or receive a report of a crime, they can go through the accused person's vehicle, home, or personal belongings to obtain and seize any piece of evidence linking them with the offense. 

However, there are various rules guiding how search and seizure must be conducted before the court can admit any evidence acquired in the process. Moreover, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the police and government authorities from any unreasonable search and seizure. Therefore, knowing your fundamental rights is imperative to navigate key decisions in your case. 

At Moreland Law Firm, we're dedicated to offering trusted legal guidance and skilled representation to clients in their criminal cases. Our practiced Tennessee criminal defense attorney can educate you about the state's search and seizure laws and outline a solid defense to help fight your charges. We proudly represent clients across Nashville, Columbia, Murfreesboro, Franklin, Lebanon, and Dickson, Tennessee. 

Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment

Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, "The 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." 

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution was enacted to protect people from any unlawful search and seizure by the government and police. In addition, the Fourth Amendment provides different rules and guidelines to search a person's property, home, or vehicle. To search private property, the police must get a valid search warrant signed by the judge. Also, the search warrant will only be issued by the court if the search is determined to be warranted and reasonable. 

Warranted Search and Seizure

According to Tennessee law, a magistrate may issue a warrant for the police to search and seize any of the following: 

  • evidence of a crime 

  • contraband, the fruits of crime, or items criminally possessed 

  • a property designed or intended for use or that has been used to commit a crime 

  • a person who is unlawfully restrained 

  • a person whose arrest is supported by probable cause 

Furthermore, for a search and seizure to be legal in Tennessee, the police officer must have probable cause to search the accused person's private property. In addition, the probable cause must be supported by an affidavit describing or naming the person, the property, and the place to be searched.  

What Is Probable Cause?

Under Tennessee law, probable cause involves various facts and circumstances sufficient to establish a reasonable belief that someone has committed, is committing a crime, or that a property or place contains items linked with the offense. 

In the event that the police are unable to show probable cause for a warranted search or arrest, any evidence acquired from the search will not be admissible in court. 

Valid Searches and Seizures Without Warrants 

However, a search and seizure may be considered valid without a search warrant if it was done under the following circumstances or expectations: 

  • Consent – You agreed or consented to the search. 

  • Vehicle searches – The law enforcement officer believed that the car contained evidence of the crime. 

  • Plain view – The evidence was visible in plain view. 

  • Personal safety – The law enforcement officer seized the evidence to protect their own personal safety. 

  • Preserve evidence – The law enforcement officer believed that the alleged defendant may destroy the evidence. 

  • Urgent situation – The law enforcement officer can conduct a search or make an arrest during emergency or exigent situations. 

Besides these exceptions, conducting a search and seizure of someone's private property, car, or belongings without a valid search warrant is prohibited. Any evidence acquired from such an unreasonable search and seizure may be inadmissible in court. 

Understanding the Exclusionary Rule

Additionally, the exclusionary rule prevents the police from using any evidence that was acquired in violation of the United States Constitution. Under the exclusionary rule, the Tennessee court may dismiss or rule any incriminating evidence against a defendant which was acquired illegally or through an unreasonable search inadmissible during trial. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible to show that the alleged defendant actually committed the offense. 

Strong Legal Representation

When facing criminal charges, getting reliable advocacy and legal representation is crucial to understanding the rules guiding search and seizure and building a solid defense for your case. At Moreland Law Firm, we're ready and poised to defend and represent clients in their criminal cases. Our skilled lawyer can assess the facts of your case, investigate how the evidence against you was obtained, and craft an effective defense strategy to fight your charges. 

Contact us at Moreland Law Firm today to schedule a simple case evaluation with a highly-skilled criminal defense lawyer. Our reliable attorney can guide you through the criminal justice system in pursuit of the most favorable outcome for your unique circumstances. We proudly represent clients across Nashville, Columbia, Murfreesboro, Franklin, Lebanon, and Dickson, Tennessee.