Tennessee Supreme Court Overrules State v. Jacumin Concerning the Sufficiency of an Affidavit to Issue a Search Warrant

April 5, 2017

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a 2012 search warrant for property belonging to Jerry Lewis Tuttle in Maury County.  The search, which yielded marijuana, cocaine, guns, ammunition, and over 1 million dollars cash, resulted in a jury convicting Tuttle of six criminal offenses, including conspiracy to possess over 300 pounds of marijuana with intent to sell or deliver and conspiracy to commit money laundering, and the trial court ordering forfeiture of the cash.

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision focused on the validity of the affidavit, which supported the request for the search warrant.  Before trial, Tuttle moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search, arguing that the affidavit failed to establish probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime would be found on the property.  The trial court held the search warrant sufficient, denied the motion, and admitted the evidence at trial.

The defendant appealed, and again challenged the sufficiency of the affidavit.  The Court of Criminal Appeals held the affidavit failed to satisfy the two-pronged test adopted as a matter of state constitutional law in State v. Jacumin, 778 S.W.2d 430 (Tenn. 1989) to evaluate the sufficiency of affidavits.  Under this test, an affidavit must contain information establishing an informant’s basis of knowledge and veracity, and each prong of the test must be independently established.  The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court and vacated Tuttle’s conspiracy convictions, but affirmed the trial court’s decision ordering forfeiture of the cash.

The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the State of Tennessee permission to appeal, overruled Jacumin, and adopted the totality-of-the-circumstances analysis announced in Illinois v. Gates,462 U.S. 213 (1983) for determining whether an affidavit sufficiently establishes probable cause for issuance of a search warrant.  The Tennessee Supreme Court noted that a wide majority of jurisdictions now apply the totality-of-the-circumstances test, the test is less likely to be hypertechnically applied than the Jacumin test, and it is consistent with the text of the Tennessee Constitution.  The Tennessee Supreme Court also noted that basis of knowledge and veracity remain relevant under the totality-of-the-circumstances test, however, need not be independently established.

Applying the totality-of-the-circumstances analysis, the Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that the affidavit in this case sufficiently established probable cause for issuance of the search warrant for the property.  Having determined that the search was based on probable cause, the Tennessee Supreme Court also concluded that sufficient evidence supported Tuttle’s conspiracy convictions and justified forfeiture of the more than 1 million dollars cash.

To read the unanimous opinion in State v. Tuttle, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.