Supreme Court Rules on Admissibility of Evidence Obtained Pursuant to a Parole Search

August 7, 2018

The Tennessee Supreme Court has reversed part of a Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision suppressing evidence in a case involving individuals on supervised release and has affirmed the suppression of evidence against a third party who resided with them.    

Janet Stanfield, who was serving a community corrections sentence, Tony Winsett, who was on parole, and Janet Stanfield’s adult son, Justin Stanfield, lived together in a residence in Union City, Tennessee.  Justin Stanfield was not on any form of supervised release.  Acting upon information received from a confidential informant, law enforcement officers conducted a warrantless parole search of the residence based on Winsett’s parolee status.  Officers were aware that both Janet and Justin Stanfield resided with him. 

When officers arrived at the residence, they knocked on two doors, but the knocks went unanswered. Based upon observations made at the residence, officers entered through the front door of the residence, where they immediately detected a “very strong odor of marijuana.”  Officers noted three bedrooms with open doors and quickly ascertained which of the bedrooms belonged to whom.  Officers seized a weapon, ammunition, drug paraphernalia, and methamphetamine from the bedroom shared by Winsett and Janet Stanfield.  In Justin Stanfield’s bedroom, an officer found a jar that contained marijuana concealed inside a wooden television stand, as well as weapon and ammunition. 

Meanwhile, officers noticed Justin Stanfield’s vehicle drive past the residence, and they left to conduct a traffic stop of his car.  At that time, Justin Stanfield provided information that led officers to another location to conduct an undercover narcotics transaction.  During the ensuing narcotics operation, Winsett and Janet Stanfield drove past.  Officers pursued the vehicle, and after a chase, the driver, Winsett, finally stopped.  A search of Janet Stanfield yielded four alprazolam tablets and currency. 

An Obion County Grand Jury jointly indicted Winsett and Janet Stanfield for drug and weapons offenses.  Winsett was indicted for attempting to elude a law enforcement officer.  Janet Stanfield and Justin Stanfield were separately indicted for drug offenses.  Prior to trial, defendants filed motions to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless search.  The trial court suppressed the evidence against all three defendants and dismissed the indictments.   The State appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed the rulings of the trial court.

The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the State’s application for permission to appeal in this case to consider the relative expectations of privacy enjoyed by individuals granted supervised release from incarceration—including those on parole, probation, community corrections, or someone residing with such an individual.    

The Court held that the parole search of Winsett was a “status” search based on his status as a parolee and was therefore permissible, notwithstanding a finding of probable cause or reasonable suspicion.  The fact that Winsett was not home at the time did not affect the constitutionality of the search.  Second, the search of Winsett’s/Janet Stanfield’s bedroom, including items that clearly belonged to her, was permissible pursuant to the doctrine of common authority, which represents an expansion of this doctrine to apply to status searches. 

Finally, also applying common authority, the Court held that the search of Justin Stanfield’s private bedroom was not encompassed by the doctrine, absent a showing of common access and usage by the other residents of the household.  Therefore, the Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals’ suppression of evidence against Winsett and Janet Stanfield and affirmed the suppression of evidence against Justin Stanfield. 

Justice Sharon G. Lee filed a separate opinion dissenting in part and concurring in the judgment of the Court. In her view, Mr. Winsett’s parolee status should not subject him, Ms. Stanfield, and her son, Justin Stanfield, to a warrantless and suspicionless search. Rather, she contends, Article I, section 7 of the Tennessee constitution requires the police to have reasonable suspicion before searching a parolee without a warrant. After reviewing the facts, Justice Lee concluded that the police did not have reasonable suspicion to search the Winsett/Stanfield home. Therefore, the evidence from the search should have been suppressed based on the violation of Mr. Winsett, Ms. Stanfield, and her son’s constitutional rights.

To read the majority opinion in State of Tennessee v. Janet Stanfield, authored by Justice Roger A. Page, and Justice Sharon G. Lee’s separate concurring and dissenting opinion, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.