Police Men Knocking on Door

Understanding Tennessee’s Search and Seizure Laws

Brazil Clark, PLLC Oct. 4, 2023

When you’re charged with a crime, there must be evidence against you to support that charge. But what if that evidence was collected illegally? What does that mean for your case? If you suspect that your rights were violated during the collection of evidence against you, what should you do? 

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Tennessee and believe that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated during a search, don’t hesitate to call Attorney Frank Brazil at Brazil Clark, PLLC in Nashville. Attorney Frank Brazil can advocate for your rights and work to question any evidence against you that may have been obtained unlawfully.  

First, it is crucial to understand how the Fourth Amendment protects you, as well as certain exceptions to that protection.  

Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment protects you against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” which means that law enforcement cannot forcefully search you or anything that you are carrying (such as a purse or backpack)—and cannot search your house, place of business/office, or vehicle—without a warrant.  

You cannot be searched anywhere you would have a “legitimate expectation of privacy.” For example, an officer can knock on your door, but they cannot peek into the windows, as this violates your normal, reasonable expectation of privacy in your own home.  

However, objects in plain view in a vehicle—such as a weapon in a passenger seat or the backseat of a car—are not usually protected by this “legitimate expectation of privacy” rule. Any object in plain view where you should not have that expectation of privacy (such as any public place) is, likewise, not protected. 

Warranted Search and Seizure

A search and seizure is legal with a warrant, but to obtain a warrant, police must have “probable cause” to believe that you’ve committed a crime. Probable cause must be based on facts that would cause a person to reasonably believe that a crime has taken place. For example, if the police see someone discharge a firearm at someone else and then flee, the police then have probable cause to obtain a warrant to search the person’s home in order to make an arrest.  

Valid Searches and Seizures Without Warrants

It’s important to remember that exceptions do exist that allow law enforcement to conduct a warrantless search and seizure. Officers can conduct a search without a warrant if:  

  • You give consent to the search. 

  • The search is a search incident to a lawful arrest (SITA); the police can search you and your nearby environment if they have lawfully arrested you. 

  • There are exigent circumstances (emergencies) that, in the eyes of law enforcement, make a warrantless search necessary—for example, if not entering a property would result in a person’s death or in the destruction of evidence. 

Understanding the Exclusionary Rule

Under the “exclusionary rule,” any evidence that is found illegally (such as during an unlawful search and seizure) is inadmissible in court. If you believe that evidence against you was collected unlawfully, your attorney can help you to file a motion to suppress this evidence.  

The court will either approve or deny the motion, usually after a hearing in which your attorney will have a chance to question the members of law enforcement who collected the evidence from you. If your motion to suppress is granted, your case may be dismissed due to lack of evidence; on the other hand, if the judge denies your motion to suppress, you can still appeal that decision if you are convicted at a later date.  

It is also necessary to remember that a “good faith” exception to the exclusionary rule applies if the members of law enforcement collecting the evidence carried out an unlawful search based on a good-faith belief, at the time, that the search was legal. For example, if a warrant is found to have been invalid after the police officers have already collected evidence based on that warrant, the evidence the police officers collected may still be admissible if they can prove that they were acting based on the belief that the warrant was valid at the time of the search.  

Understand and Protect Your Rights With Skilled Support

You deserve due process—and you should not pay the price when police officers act unlawfully. If you believe that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated during a search and seizure and that evidence collected may have been illegally obtained, call Attorney Frank Brazil at Brazil Clark, PLLC, serving Nashville, Tennessee, as well as Rutherford County, Tennessee. An expert litigator, Attorney Frank Brazil knows how judges are likely to think and will work with you to craft the best defense for your case. Don’t delay—call Brazil Clark, PLLC today for an appointment.