The issue presented in this case is whether evidence seized from the Defendant’s person following a warrantless search should have been suppressed or, conversely, whether the search was justified as a search incident to lawful arrest. After receiving a tip from a citizen informant that three individuals were involved in drug activity around a picnic table in the back yard of a house, police officers were dispatched to the scene and found the three identified persons plus a fourth person – the Defendant – seated around the picnic table. As the officers approached, they observed one participant sweep the table with his arm and drop a corner baggie to the ground, and they subsequently discovered that this person held a rolled dollar bill containing a white powdery residue. The officers also saw a white powdery residue on the surface of the table that field-tested positive for cocaine. Although the Defendant was seated at the picnic table where the police officers observed evidence of cocaine use, they did not see the Defendant engaged in any illegal or suspicious activity. An initial “pat down” search of the Defendant revealed no drugs or weapons. After a consensual search of one of the participants at the table revealed white powder on the seat of his wheelchair, the officers searched the Defendant a second time and found a bag of marijuana and a bag of cocaine in his pocket. The Defendant was indicted for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and cocaine. The trial court found that the search was proper due to exigent circumstances supported by probable cause, but the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, finding that the circumstances did not support the existence of probable cause. After review, we conclude that the search of the Defendant cannot be justified as a search incident to an arrest because, at the time of the search, the officers did not have probable cause to arrest the Defendant. The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed.
Case Number: M2006-02179-SC-R11-CD
Originating Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Case Name: State of Tennessee v. Marcus Richards
Dissent or Concur: No
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