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Divided Tennessee Supreme Court Adopts “Good-Faith Exception” to the Exclusionary Rule

April 10, 2019 | DPBC Blawg

In Tennessee, the protections provided in the Article 1 Section 7 of the state constitution regarding search and seizure have long been held to be identical to the protections provided by the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  However, the Tennessee Rules of Evidence do not always track the Federal Rules of Evidence. In criminal cases, this can mean that, even though the constitutional protections are ostensibly the same at the state and federal level, evidence that would be admissible in one forum may not be admissible in another.  A divided Tennessee Supreme Court recently took a step toward a unified interpretation of the evidence rules.

In criminal matters, the "exclusionary rule" applies to block the admission of evidence that was obtained illegally, for example, evidence that is obtained by police without a warrant.  There are several exceptions to the rule both at the state and federal level. Historically, however, Tennessee had failed to recognized the so-called "good-faith exception."  The good-faith exception, created by the United States' Supreme Court in 1984, provides that if an officer reasonably believes that his search for evidence is lawful, then the evidence will not be excluded, even if the search was ultimately illegal. Tennessee had not previously ruled upon the matter.

In an opinion issued on March 12, 2019, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted the Exclusionary Rule while at the same time excluding the evidence that was at issue in the case. You can read the majority opinion here. The effect of this outcome is to provide some guidance as to the proper application of the exception, although this is a matter that Justice Kirby takes issue with, as she filed an opinion dissenting from the majority's interpretation of the good-faith in this case. Justice Lee also filed a separate opinion.  Justice Lee agreed that the evidence should be excluded in this case but dissented from the adoption of the exception, characterizing the majority opinion not as one that adopts the good-faith exclusionary rule, but as an opinion that excuses the police from negligent record-keeping. You can read Justice Lee's opinion here.


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