On March 19th 2010 , the Tennessee Supreme Court decided State v. Talley. The issue was whether an owner of a condominium has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the commonly owned hallway of the complex. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution protect against warrantless search and seizures, including the curtilage of the home, which is defined as any area adjacent to a residence in which an individual can reasonably expect privacy. For example ,s storage shed or detached garage would be a curtilage of a house.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals enunciated a bright-line rule in United States v. Carriger that officers may not enter the common areas of a locked building without a warrant due to the expectation of privacy that only the resident and other residents and their invited guests would have access to the common areas. It appears that the Sixth Circuit, along with several State Supreme Courts, follows this bright-line rule. 

In contrast, the Tennessee Supreme Court held in Talley that the totality of the circumstances should control. The deciding factors are whether the defendant owns the property or has a possessory interest in it, is legitimately on the premises, has the right to exclude others from that place, has shown a subjective expectation that the place would be free from governmental invasion, and took normal precautions to maintain his privacy. These factors were first used by courts in Tennessee in 1982. The Second, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits all appear to use the same totality of the circumstances factors. 

Although state courts within a particular federal district may consider what the lower federal courts have decided, the state courts are not required to follow those decisions.   The result? Depending on what state you live in, and perhaps whether the charges are filed in state or federal court, you may or may not have a right to privacy in these secured common areas. This so called split of authority among the circuits will only be resolved when the United States Supreme Court takes a case and finally decides for all of us what the Constitutional right to privacy means in this context.  

So what does the Talley decision mean for residents of Tennessee? If the police enter the secured hallways or common areas of your condominium complex without a warrant you had better hope any charges against you are filed in Federal Court. The Federal Court will suppress any evidence gathered against you, arguably even when an occupant of the unit consents to a search. In State court, all the evidence may be admissible against you