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State v. McElrath

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 31, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
JEROME ANTONIO MCELRATH

          Session June 7, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Obion County No. CC15CR71 Jeff Parham, Judge

         The State appeals the suppression of evidence by the Obion County Circuit Court. The defendant, Jerome Antonio McElrath, was arrested on two separate occasions for criminal trespass. The searches of the defendant's person incident to those arrests produced marijuana in the amounts of 10.1 grams and 4.0 grams, respectively. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence seized incident to his arrests and dismissed the charges. The State argues that the arresting officer had probable cause to arrest the defendant and, therefore, the search incident to each arrest was lawful. Furthermore, the State contends that the evidence was legally obtained because the officer acted in good-faith reliance on information provided by dispatch. After review, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Rachel E. Willis, Senior Counsel; Tommy A. Thomas, District Attorney General; and Jim Cannon, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

          James T. Powell, Union City, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jerome Antonio McElrath.

          J. Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          J. ROSS DYER, JUDGE

         Factual and Procedure Background

         On April 8, 2015, Union City Police Officer Chris Cummings was on patrol when he passed a Union City Housing Authority ("Housing Authority") property and noticed the defendant standing outside the community center. Being familiar with the defendant and believing the defendant was on the Housing Authority's barred list, Officer Cummings radioed dispatch to confirm the defendant's status. Upon being advised the defendant was on the March 2015, active barred list, Officer Cummings called for a backup unit to assist.

         As the officers approached the defendant's location, the defendant entered the community center and began to run. The officers, however, were able to stop the defendant before he could exit through the rear of the building. Officer Cummings then placed the defendant under arrest for criminal trespass based on his understanding that the defendant was on the active barred list. During a search of the defendant incident to the arrest, Officer Cummings discovered 10.1 grams of marijuana on the defendant's person.

         On April 27, 2015, Officer Cummings was again on patrol when he observed what appeared to be a fight taking place on Housing Authority property. When he stopped to investigate, Officer Cummings noticed the defendant was present. Again, still believing the defendant was barred from Housing Authority property, Officer Cummings arrested the defendant for criminal trespass. A search of the defendant incident to that arrest produced 4.0 grams of marijuana on his person.

         Subsequently, Officer Cummings learned the defendant had been approved for removal from the barred list on April 11, 2014. Officer Cummings testified that the list he relied on when arresting the defendant was generated and maintained by the Union City Police Department. Per Officer Cummings, dispatch maintains the list and advises officers of an individual's status when requested. Officers do not have access to any lists or paper work maintained by the Housing Authority. The defendant was originally placed on the Housing Authority's barred list for several drug violations. Both the March 11, 2015 and May 11, 2015, barred lists included the defendant.

         Lieutenant Melvin Dowell testified that he is responsible for maintaining the barred list on behalf of the Union City Police Department. In order for an individual to be removed from the list, they first submit an application. Each application for removal from the barred list is reviewed by, and must be approved by, the property manager, the Executive Director for the Housing Authority, and the Union City Police Chief. According to Lt. Dowell, once everyone agrees an individual can be removed from the list, he notifies the individual and advises his secretary to ...


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