Appellate Court Upholds Trial Court Suppression Of Drugs Found From Warrantless Search

In Tennessee, as well as any other state around the country, it’s  common knowledge that law enforcement has the authority to stop a motorist engaged in a traffic violation. And Police Search Drugs Car Warrantsubsequent to such a stop, some motorists may find themselves temporarily detained by a police officer during a traffic violation stop for reasons of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The issue then becomes how long can the police officer detain a motorist, and what kinds of questions can be asked beyond the scope of the initial reason for the stop before a person’s Fourth Amendment rights as well as Article I, Section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution rights are violated?

State of Tennessee v. Ricky J. Jones & Shane Eugene McClanahan, a case the Criminal Court of Appeals of Tennessee heard and ruled upon, clarified the scope and limits of an investigatory stop by law enforcement in Tennessee

The facts of the case are a Smith County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael J. Agee (Deputy) observed Shane McClanahan (Defendant) in a convenience store.  The Deputy testified he walked by the defendant “almost brushing distance” and smelled marijuana on his person. The Deputy stated that he was familiar with the odor of marijuana because of his work as a K-9 handler for the Smith County and DeKalb County Sheriff’s Departments as well as his work as a patrol deputy.

The Deputy did not immediately stop to speak to the defendant in the store.  Instead, he spoke to store clerks while the defendant left, entered his car, and drove away.  The Deputy then followed the defendant for nearly a mile over the county line in Trousdale County, during which time the defendant did not commit a traffic violation or exhibit impaired driving per the Deputy’s testimony.

Based solely on the Deputy purporting to detect the odor of marijuana in the convenience store, he stopped the defendant’s car, searched the car without a warrant, found marijuana in a tackle box and placed the defendant under arrest for drug possession. The Defendant was subsequently indicted with possession of not less than one-half ounce nor more than ten pounds of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, driving while under the influence of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence recovered in his car. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence finding that the alleged odor of marijuana at the convience store did not justify the Deputy’s delay in following the Defendant almost a mile before making a traffic stop in leu of questioning him immediately at the store. Accordingly, the trial court dismissed the indictment.

The State appealed the trial court’s ruling arguing that it erred in granting the Defendent’s suppression motion and in dismissing his cases. Upon review, the Criminal Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

The Appellate Court reasoned that the Deputy may have been justified in stopping the defendant “swiftly,” at the store, and conducting a brief investigation to determine whether he possessed marijuana. However, the Court further stated it was unreasonable for the Deputy to wait until the defendant had gotten in his car and driven nearly a mile down the road before initiating the investigatory stop.  The Court further stated that the traffic stop was “significantly more intrusive that a seizure and search of the defendant’s person at the store would have been.”

If you feel your liberties have been infringed upon by a warrantless vehicle search from a traffic stop where you did not committed any traffic violations, you should immediately seek the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Attorney Donna Wagner has a vast amount of criminal defense experience arguing a myriad of criminal cases before Tennessee courts. Contact Mrs. Wagner to schedule a consultation.

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