State of Tennessee v. Stanfield, et al.

State of Tennessee v. Janet M. Stanfield, et al.

No. W2015-02503-SC-R11-CD

Attorney: Jessica Jackson

Criminal Law Journal Member:  Marabeth Kennedy

Full Article PDF: State of Tennessee v. Janet Michelle Stanfield, et al.

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently examined the nuances of the Fourth Amendment with respect to the expectations of privacy of a parolee, a probationer, and a private citizen in the same household during a parole search. The case revolved around defendant Tony Winsett, who lived in a house with defendant Janet Stanfield and her adult son, defendant Justin Stanfield. At the time, defendant Winsett was on parole and defendant Janet Stanfield was on Community Corrections, a form of probation. Justin Stanfield was not subject to any form of supervised release. Acting on a tip from a confidential informant, law enforcement officers went to the residence to conduct a warrantless parole search at the residence. When officers arrived, they saw a burn pile outside the residence containing what they suspected was marijuana residue. No one answered when officers knocked on the door. Officers observed security cameras outside the residence and heard a “running noise” coming from inside the residence. The noise sounded like someone was inside the residence destroying evidence.

Officers entered the residence with a pocketknife. Once inside, they were greeted by a large dog and the odor of marijuana. No people were present. The doors were open to all three of the bedrooms inside the residence. Officers determined that one of the rooms was uninhabitable, one was shared by defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield, and one belonged to defendant Justin Stanfield. Officers seized a gun, ammunition, clear plastic bags, a set of digital scales, a marijuana pipe, and methamphetamine from the room belonging to defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield. In defendant Justin Stanfield’s room, officers found marijuana, a handgun, and ammunition. Officers saw defendant Justin Stanfield’s car drive past the residence on the security camera footage that was displayed on the television monitor in one of the bedrooms. A traffic stop was initiated. Defendant Justin Stanfield was read his Miranda rights and placed in custody. He consented to a search of his phone. He also admitted to officers that he sold marijuana, that he received a text during the stop about the purchase of marijuana, and that he would complete the sale.

Shortly thereafter, defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield were located in a vehicle and stopped by one of the officers. They were placed in custody and read their Miranda rights. During a search of their vehicle, officers seized more than $200 and four alprazolam pills from defendant Janet Stanfield’s purse. Prior to trial, the trial court granted a motion to suppress, dismissing the indictments as to all three defendants. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted permission to appeal.

The Tennessee Supreme Court, partially reversing the Court of Criminal Appeals held that: (1) a warrantless search of a parolee’s residence is constitutionally reasonable as long as the totality of the circumstances indicate a valid law enforcement concern for the search; (2) the doctrine of common authority extends the scope of parole searches to areas of a residence over which a parolee has common authority; and (3) doctrine of common authority limits the scope of a parole search of an area within a residence held exclusively by an individual with no conditional release status. As a result, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the grant of the motion to suppress with respect to defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield and affirmed the grant of the motion to suppress and resulting dismissal of the indictment with respect to defendant Justin Stanfield.

In its analysis, the court briefly reviewed the law with respect to Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure before turning to the resolution of the individual issues on appeal with respect to the validity of the warrantless searches.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution guarantee the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Tennessee’s constitutional protections regarding searches and seizures are identical in intent and purpose to those in the federal constitution. In evaluating the constitutionality of warrantless searches, the court “evaluate[s] the search or seizure under traditional standards of reasonableness” by balancing an individual’s privacy interests against legitimate governmental interests. Of course, “a warrantless search or seizure is presumed unreasonable, and evidence discovered as a result thereof is subject to suppression unless the State demonstrates that the search or seizure was conducted pursuant to one of the narrowly defined exceptions to the warrant requirement. The burden is place on the State to show by a preponderance of the evidence, that a warrantless search passes constitutional muster.

In Stanfield, the court examined the validity of the warrantless search of defendant Winsett, the parolee, because it served as the basis for the police presence at the residence.  As a starting point in the analysis, the court noted the parties’ reliance on Turner and Samson. In particular, the State asked the court to provide guidance as to what constituted a legitimate law enforcement concern in the context of a warrantless search of a parolee.  Defendants argued that the search was constitutionally unreasonable, and that the totality of the circumstances did not give rise to reasonable suspicion to support the search.

In Turner, the Tennessee Supreme Court formally determined that a parolee could be “searched without any reasonable or individualized suspicion where the parolee has agreed to warrantless searches by law enforcement officers.” The decision in Turner was based in part on the State’s “interests in reducing recidivism and thereby promoting reintegration and positive citizenship among probationers and parolees warrant privacy intrusions that would not otherwise be tolerated under the Fourth Amendment.”

With that backdrop in mind, the court reviewed the Parole Certificate signed by defendant Winsett. The document indicated defendant Winsett’s agreement to “a search, without a warrant, of [his] person, vehicle, property, or place of residence by any Probation/Parole officer or law enforcement officer, at any time without reasonable suspicion.” Applying Turner to the facts in Stanfield, the court determined that the warrantless search was “constitutionally reasonable” based merely on defendant Winsett’s status as a parolee. In other words, the State did not have to prove reasonable suspicion or probable cause to justify the search. Despite the determination that the warrantless search in defendant Winsett’s case was constitutionally reasonable based merely on defendant Winsett’s release status, the court noted that a warrantless search could be deemed unreasonable if “conducted for reasons other than valid law enforcement concerns.” In order to protect against unreasonable searches, the court examined the totality of the circumstances as an additional “safeguard.” The court, while refusing to place parameters on the definition of a “legitimate law enforcement concern” for a search, noted that the drug activity suspected in defendant Winsett’s case was a valid law enforcement concern.  The court also pointed out that the search did not seek to cause harm, was not predicated on personal animosity, and was not part of a pattern of repetitive searches conducted while the parolee was at work or asleep.

Next, the court reviewed the warrantless search of defendant Janet Stanfield’s possessions located in a bedroom shared with a parolee. The court recognized that defendant Janet Stanfield was on a form of probation, specifically Community Corrections, but based the efficacy of the search of her possessions on the application of the doctrine of common authority rather than a determination of whether the conditions of Community Corrections would have supported a suspicionless, warrantless search of her residence and/or bedroom. Common authority can be shown by “mutual use of the property by persons generally having joint access or control” where the relationship of the people make it such that any one of them “has the right to permit the inspection in his own right and that the others have assumed the risk that one of their number might permit the common area to be searched.” For the first time in Tennessee, the doctrine of common authority was applied “to parole searches of areas of a residence over which a parolee has common authority.” The court found it was the State’s burden to prove the doctrine of common authority applied to the factual scenario, concluding that the proof showed there was no “question” to the officers that defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield shared a bedroom, thus “law enforcement officers did not err in searching and seizing all items of contraband found in the shared bedroom.” As a result, the court reversed the grant of the motion to suppress with respect to defendant Janet Stanfield, both as to items found in the search of the bedroom and the subsequent search of defendant Janet Stanfield’s person during the automobile stop.

Lastly, the court determined, as a matter of first impression, that the doctrine of common authority did not extend to validate a search of the bedroom of an “individual who is unencumbered by a conditional release status but who resides with an individual subject to such restrictions.” In other words, the court limited the doctrine of common authority.

In this case, the door to defendant Justin Stanfield’s the room was open. There was no evidence that any possessions belonging to defendants Winsett or Janet Stanfield were found in the room. While the police were aware that defendant Justin Stanfield lived at the house, there was no evidence that he was aware of the search conditions related to the parole or probationary status of defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield or that he was aware that their status or those conditions could impact his constitutional protections. The court, balancing the individual privacy rights against the government interests, recognized that an individual cannot be expected to completely give up privacy expectations in their own bedroom as a result of living with a parolee or probationer, thus limiting common authority.  In other words, the court determined that common authority did not extend to areas under the nonparolee’s exclusive control simply because of proximity to a parolee who has relinquished certain rights as a result of their conditional release status. The court acknowledged and suggested that officers could have and likely should have secured a warrant based on probable cause after smelling marijuana when they entered the house. Because there was no warrant and common authority did not validate the search of defendant Justin Stanfield’s bedroom, the court determined that the evidence was properly suppressed as to defendant Justin Stanfield.

Justice Sharon G. Lee, dissenting in part and concurring in part, expressed disagreement with the majority’s determination that parolee status subjected both defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield to a warrantless and suspicionless search. In her view, the Tennessee Constitution requires the police to establish reasonable suspicion prior to searching a parolee without a warrant and the facts of the case did not support a finding a reasonable suspicion. The dissent specifically noted the importance of the fact that defendant Winsett did not “voluntarily” agree to give up his constitutional rights but that he was required to sign the parole agreement as a condition of parole. While her opinion is understandable and, certainly arguable, it misses the mark. Defendant Winsett, a convicted felon, was granted parole−something that the court has pointed out is a privilege, not a right. The distinction between a privilege and a right is important, and helps to shape the parameters of government control over an individual on parole status. Justice Lee concluded that because reasonable suspicion had to exist prior to the forcible entry into the home, and the confidential informant’s information about illegal activity at the home was not corroborated prior to the search of the curtilage of the home, the search was illegal. Thus, Justice Lee agreed with the court’s conclusion as to defendant Justin Stanfield, albeit for different reasons.

While at first glance the factual scenario built around a parolee, a probationer, and a regular citizen living together in a residence sounds like the beginning of a well-crafted joke or an idyllic bar exam question, it actually provides the backdrop for the state’s most recent case on the seemingly ever-evolving law of warrantless searches under the Fourth Amendment. While the majority of those citizens most likely lack an unwavering familiarity with all of the amendments encapsulated within the Bill of Rights, the Fourth Amendment is commonly referenced in every day parlance. Even though the Tennessee Supreme Court’s ultimate conclusion is not necessarily a surprising one, it should be noted that the opinion blatantly leaves several hypothetical scenarios unanswered. For example, the Court noted that the outcome of the case could have been different if someone had been home at the time of the search. Additionally, the court refused to consider whether a parole search is “akin” to a consent search or whether the conditions of Community Corrections (the specific type of probationary sentencing applicable to defendant Janet Stanfield) would support a suspicionless, warrantless search of a residence. Perhaps the court is anticipating a case by case approach to this area of search and seizure or, more likely, the court is anticipating that a case or cases more on point with one of those factual scenarios will be presented to the court. To that end, it should be noted that less than a week prior to the release of Stanfield, the Court granted permission to appeal in a case involving a “probation search” of a residence shared by a probationer and a regular citizen. In that case State v. Angela Carrie Payton Hamm and David Lee Hamm, the Court of Criminal Appeals determined that the initial search was not supported by reasonable suspicion and, as a result, declined to address whether the probationer consented to a search of her home as condition of her probation and/or the resulting effect of the application of the doctrine common authority to the validity of the search.  Perhaps some of those unanswered questions in Stanfield will be addressed by the Court in this appeal−stay tuned−this area of the law will certainly continue to develop in the near future.