A question that pops up over and over again is " Does a confidential informant have do tell me they are the police ? "  One can count on the police recording activity of illegal drug sales or interviewing suspects under criminal investigation . Secret recordings are one of the standard tools that police use every day.

Richard A. Oppel Jr. of the New York Times  just published a article  entitled " Sentencing Shift Gives New Leverage to Prosecutors". From my perspective handling criminal cases in Tennessee , Mr Oppel is right on target. Under Tennessee criminal sentencing laws , there are mandatory minimum sentences in certain criminal offenses.Some prosecutors use


Here is a video of an execution of a search warrant.  Most search warrants do not go like this, but I thought it is a great example of a search warrant gone wrong.  Thanks to Simple Justice and Radley Balko for this educational video.

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.  

Continue Reading Seach and Seizure Issue at the Tennessee Supreme Court

Tyler Smith , a star  player on Tennessee’s basketball team, as well as three players were recently arrested for drug and weapons charges in Knoxville.Knoxville Police Department reported  that the four players were arrested after a traffic stop for speeding.According to the police report, officers smelled marijuana coming from the car.A police drug dog indicated the presence of drugs in the car.Police searched the car and found handguns, a bag of marijuana ,and an open container of alcohol.All were charged with possession of firearms and drug possession charges.

What is the legal importance of this case? It illustrates that passengers in a car can be charged with a crime even though they do not actually possess the drugs or weapons. In this case the weapons were found under the seat.The police arrested these players under the theory of constructive possession of drugs and weapons.

Continue Reading UT Basketball Players Arrested