State v. Turner

Decision Date15 October 2009
Docket NumberNo. W2007-01590-SC-R11-CD.,W2007-01590-SC-R11-CD.
Citation297 S.W.3d 155
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee v. Charlotte Yvonne TURNER.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General & Reporter; Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; Rachel E. Willis, Asst. Attorney General; Thomas A. Thomas, District Attorney General; and James T. Cannon, Asst. District Attorney General; for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

James T. Powell, Union City, Tennessee, for the appellee, Charlotte Turner.

OPINION

CORNELIA A. CLARK, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which JANICE M. HOLDER, C.J., GARY R. WADE, and WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., JJ., joined. SHARON G. LEE, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether the police violated the constitutional rights of the defendant, a parolee, when they searched her residence without a warrant but pursuant to a condition of her parole. We adopt the reasoning of the Supreme Court in Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 126 S.Ct. 2193, 165 L.Ed.2d 250 (2006), and hold that parolees who are subject to a warrantless search condition may be searched without reasonable or individualized suspicion. The officers who searched the defendant's residence knew about her parole status, were aware of the warrantless search condition of her parole, and did not conduct the search in an unreasonable manner. Accordingly, the trial court erred in suppressing evidence found during the search of the defendant's residence. The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed, and this matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Factual and Procedural Background

The defendant, Charlotte Yvonne Turner ("Defendant"), was convicted in Kentucky in 2002 of felony possession of controlled substance I and wanton endangerment in the first degree. She received a seven-year sentence but was paroled by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in February 2005. Defendant was subsequently permitted to move her residency and, in September 2005, her parole supervision was transferred to Tennessee, where she came to reside in Obion County. In conjunction with her parole in Tennessee, Defendant signed a standard document in September 2005 in which, among other things, she "agree[d] to a search, without a warrant, of [her] person, vehicle, property, or place of residence by any Probation/Parole Officer or law enforcement, at any time." The conditions of Defendant's parole in both Kentucky and Tennessee also prohibited possession of a weapon, see also Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(b)(1)(B) (2006), and required Defendant to obey federal, state, and local laws.

Defendant was indicted in June 2007 in Obion County for being a felon in possession of a handgun. Defendant filed a motion to suppress which the trial court granted after a hearing. The testimony adduced at the hearing includes the following.

In April 2007, Officer Shawn Palmer worked for the Union City Police Department and was assigned to the 27th Judicial District Drug Task Force. Officer Palmer testified that he knew Defendant personally and knew that she was "out on parole in Kentucky for trafficking a controlled substance, crack cocaine, and her parole [had] been transferred to a parole officer here in Tennessee." He also knew she had previously been "convicted of dealing drugs here in Obion County." Officer Palmer stated that he "had been given information that [Defendant] was still involved in selling crack cocaine." Thus, on April 3, when Officer Palmer saw Defendant driving without wearing a seatbelt, he pulled her over.1 In response to a question by the prosecutor, Officer Palmer admitted that the stop was "pretextual" in the sense that "sometimes [he] write[s] for a seatbelt; sometimes we don't."

During the stop, Defendant identified her passenger as her friend, Torrie Smith. Officer Palmer and Officer O'Dell ran license and warrant checks on both Defendant and Ms. Smith. Based on information known to Officer O'Dell and learned from the dispatcher, Ms. Smith was placed under arrest for criminal impersonation and was found to have outstanding warrants for probation or parole violation and transporting marijuana.

Officer Palmer contacted Defendant's parole officer by phone to confirm that Defendant was subject to searches. Upon receiving verbal confirmation, he conducted a pat-down search of Defendant which revealed $975 in Defendant's pocket. Officer Palmer testified: "With the information that we were given that she'd been involved in dealing drugs again; the passenger had two warrants out for drug arrests; and the fact that [Defendant] has no form of income whatsoever and I believe a three time convicted [sic] for drug convictions, we seized the money." The officers then told Defendant that they wanted to search her house. Officer Palmer testified that Defendant "said she didn't want to and we told her, fine, we'll just call your parole officer [and] tell her that you're not cooperating." According to Officer Palmer, Defendant then called her parole officer and confirmed that the conditions of her parole included warrantless searches.

The officers agreed to meet Defendant at her residence. They drove there and waited in the front yard for Defendant to arrive. Officer Palmer stated that they waited "a good twenty minutes or so." Defendant arrived in her car and, according to Officer Palmer, "walked up and said, started crying and said, `I got a gun in the house.'" Defendant then unlocked her door and the officers began their search. They recovered a loaded .38 caliber handgun.

On cross-examination, defense counsel established that Defendant's parole documents from Kentucky stated that she was on parole for possession of a controlled substance, not "trafficking."2 Officer Palmer admitted that he did not ultimately issue a citation to Defendant for a seatbelt violation. He also admitted that, upon searching Defendant, he did not find any drugs on her person. He nevertheless decided to search Defendant's house based on "[t]he conditions of her parole and the rulings of the United States Supreme Court."

Officer Palmer admitted that Defendant's seatbelt violation was a pretext for his pulling her over and that his real concern was that he suspected "that she'd been selling drugs again." Officer Palmer stated that his suspicion was based on information he had received from one of his "informants."

When asked if Defendant had had an opportunity to refuse to go to her house for the search, Officer Palmer testified, "I told her, I told her if she didn't want to go, fine, I'll call the parole officer." Officer Palmer admitted that, at the time he determined to search Defendant's house, he did not have enough information to get a search warrant. According to Officer Palmer, approximately one hour passed from the time he pulled Defendant over to the time he finished searching her house.

Defendant also testified. She stated that the first thing Officer Palmer said to her when he pulled her over was to get out of the car. He did not say anything about a seatbelt violation. He started searching her when she got out of her car. He also searched her car. He indicated that he was looking for drugs; he did not find any on her person or in her car. She offered no resistance to these searches.

After Officer Palmer finished searching Defendant's car, he told her to drive to her house so he could search her house. According to Defendant, "he told me if I didn't go to my house he was gonna call my PO or he was gonna take me to jail anyway." She stated that the time period between Officer Palmer pulling her over and finishing the search of her house was about two hours. Defendant testified that Officer Palmer never asked to see her driver's license or her vehicle registration, both of which she had with her.

On cross-examination, Defendant acknowledged that, while being detained, she called and spoke with her parole officer. Her parole officer read her the parole condition regarding searches; she did not specifically tell Defendant whether or not she had to drive over to her house at Officer Palmer's demand.

After hearing this testimony, the trial court ruled from the bench and granted Defendant's motion to suppress. The trial judge stated that he was "convinced that there was no consent given in this case to search the house, that the defendant felt she had no choice but to allow them into the house or that they would have gone anyway or she would have been taken to jail." The trial court continued: "The search in this case in my opinion was permitted of the defendant, of her person, when she was stopped. I don't see anything unreasonable in that under the existing law. However, to require the defendant to go to another location with no basis whatsoever and detain her for one to two hours, the Court finds that constitutes an harassing, capricious and arbitrary search." The court specifically found no evidence to support "any type of suspicion or reasonable suspicion" in connection with the search of Defendant's home and concluded that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling on the basis that the "application of the reasonable parole condition by the police officers, in this case, became unreasonable as a result of this lengthy seizure of" Defendant, referring to the total time elapsed between the initial traffic stop and the conclusion of the search of Defendant's residence. State v. Turner, No. W2007-01590-CCA-R3-CD, 2008 WL 1891445, at *5 (Tenn.Crim.App. Apr.29, 2008).

We granted the State's application for permission to appeal in order to address for the first time the recent Supreme Court case dealing with warrantless and suspicionless searches of parolees, Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 126 S.Ct. 2193, 165 L.Ed.2d 250 (2006).

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