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State v. Payton Hamm

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Jackson

November 21, 2019


          Session April 4, 2019

          Appeal by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Circuit Court for Obion County No. CC-16-CR-15 Jeff Parham, Judge

         The Obion County Drug Task Force conducted a warrantless search of the residence of probationer Angela Hamm and her husband, David Hamm, which yielded illegal drugs and drug-related contraband. Defendant Angela Hamm had agreed, pursuant to probation conditions imposed in a prior case, to a warrantless search of her person, property, or vehicle at any time. We granted the State's appeal in this case to consider whether the warrantless search of a probationer's residence who is subject to a search condition requires officers to have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity prior to conducting the search. We conclude that it does not and therefore reverse the trial court's judgment and the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision affirming the same.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals Reversed; and Remanded to the Trial Court

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General; Andrew C. Coulam, Assistant Attorney General; Tommy A. Thomas, District Attorney General; and James T. Cannon, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellant, State of Tennessee.

          Charles S. Kelly, Sr., Dyersburg, Tennessee, for the Appellee, Angela Carrie Payton Hamm.

          James T. Powell, Union City, Tennessee, for the Appellee, David Lee Hamm.

          Roger A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., and Holly Kirby, J., joined. Cornelia A. Clark, J., filed a separate dissenting opinion. Sharon G. Lee, J., also filed a separate dissenting opinion.



         I. Facts and Procedural History

         In November 2013, an Obion County jury convicted defendant Angela Hamm (formerly Angela Carrie Payton) of manufacturing a controlled substance. The trial court ordered her to serve a six-year sentence. The sentence was suspended, and she was placed on supervised probation. Notably, the probation order included a warrantless search condition, which stated: "I agree to a search, without a warrant, of my person, vehicle, property, or place of residence by any Probation/Parole Officer or law enforcement officer, at any time."

         Thereafter, it appears that Angela Hamm married defendant David Hamm and moved into his Obion County home. The record indicates that Clifton Hamm also resided with the defendants.

         Approximately two years later, on November 16, 2015, Officer James Hall with the Obion County Sheriff's Department/Obion County Drug Task Force received information from an informant that "heavy players" were trafficking methamphetamine in Glass, a community in Obion County. The informant, who had drug charges pending against her, volunteered information about certain drug traffickers bringing methamphetamine to Obion County from across the river. She did not indicate how she obtained the information nor would she identify the traffickers by name. However, when specifically asked about David Hamm, the informant smiled and nodded.

         On November 17, 2015, drug task force agents went to the defendants' house to conduct a warrantless "probation search" pursuant to Angela Hamm's probation order. The agents assumed they had reasonable suspicion to conduct such a search based on the information gathered from the above-mentioned informant. When officers knocked on the door of the residence, no one answered. Clifton Hamm's teenage son was standing in the front yard and told them that the defendants had just left but that Clifton Hamm and others were in the shop behind the house. The agents walked behind the house to the detached shop where they encountered Clifton Hamm and two other men. The group appeared to be watching security camera footage, but Clifton Hamm quickly turned off the television.

         The agents then entered the house through an unlocked side door and proceeded to perform a warrantless search of the residence, including the defendants' shared bedroom. Therein, the agents found pills, two glass pipes, methamphetamine, and scales.

         The defendants were each arrested and later jointly indicted for six counts of possession of controlled substances with intent to sell or deliver and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-434(a) (possession with intent to sell or deliver 0.5 grams or more of a Schedule II controlled substance, methamphetamine); -417(a)(4) (possession with intent to deliver a Schedule IV controlled substance, alprazolam); -417(a)(4) (possession with intent to sell or deliver a Schedule II controlled substance, morphine); -417(a)(4) (possession with intent to sell or deliver a Schedule II controlled substance, amphetamine); -417(a)(4) (possession with intent to sell or deliver a Schedule IV controlled substance, clonazepam); -417(a)(4) (possession with intent to sell or deliver a Schedule II controlled substance, hydrocodone); and -425(a) (possession of drug paraphernalia). Both defendants filed motions to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the warrantless search of their home. At the hearing on the defendants' motions, the State presented the testimony of Officers James Hall and Ben Yates.

         Officer Hall testified that he received the information in question from the informant in November 2015. He confirmed that the decision to search the defendants' home was made based on the information provided to him by the informant. He acknowledged that the informant was a "known methamphetamine user." However, Officer Hall believed the informant to be reliable because she was not a paid informant nor was she "throw[ing] bones at somebody else to keep [ ] attention off of [herself]. . . . She was already caught."

         Officer Yates added that agents were also armed with previously obtained relevant information from two additional informants at the time of the search. He had received second-hand information from a "reliable informant" that the defendants were "doing it big in Glass." When asked about the informant's reliability, Officer Yates replied, "This informant has been involved in numerous narcotic cases, the seizure of narcotics, [and] made numerous cases for the drug task force." He acknowledged, however, that the informant received his information from "friends that purchase methamphetamine" and that the informant had not personally observed the illegal activity.

         In addition, an informant cooperating with drug task force agents had previously attempted to purchase methamphetamine-albeit unsuccessfully-from Clifton Hamm at his residence. However, agents were unaware that Clifton Hamm was residing with the defendants at the time.

         Both agents testified that prior to performing the search of the defendants' home, they confirmed with the local probation office that Angela Hamm was on probation and that the probation order subjected her to a warrantless search. Conversely, both acknowledged that David Hamm was not on probation at the time of the search. According to their testimony, the agents were unaware that the defendants shared a bedroom until they entered the home.

         In its May 2, 2016 order, the trial court granted the motions to suppress, stating that it could "find nothing by way of articulable facts to support the reasonable suspicion of the officer to justify a search pursuant to the probation order . . . ." The trial court reviewed the factors upon which the State relied to establish reasonable suspicion and addressed each in turn:

1) Officer James Hall received a tip from a person he had pulled over on a traffic stop that generally said there were some "heavy players" in the Obion County Glass Community.
2) This person however never mentioned a name or how she knew this information.
3) Officer Hall suggested the name of Defendant David Hamm, to the person who winked and smiled, but never mentioned the Defendant Angela Hamm.
4) Officer Ben Yates testified he received information from a reliable informant that there were some people in Glass "doing it big."
5) The informant was not identified, nor was there any indication as to why the informant was reliable.
6) The informant's information was second-hand information from another informant who had attempted unsuccessfully to purchase drugs from another resident (Clifton Hamm) at the location.

(emphasis removed).

         The State appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's decision to grant the motions to suppress in a plurality opinion authored by Judge Camille McMullen. State v. Hamm, No. W2016-01282-CCA-R3-CD, 2017 WL 3447914, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 11, 2017). It concluded that the State was required to have reasonable suspicion to support the probation search and that the State lacked such suspicion in the case at hand. Id. at *9. Judge John Everett Williams filed a separate concurring opinion agreeing that the State lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct the search and further concluding that Angela Hamm's signature on the probation order did not constitute a valid consent to search. Id. at *10-16 (Williams, J., concurring). Finally, Judge Alan Glenn filed a separate dissenting opinion concluding that the agents had reasonable suspicion to search Angela Hamm's house and that the search was also lawful as to David Hamm under the doctrine of common authority. Id. at *17-18 (Glenn, J., dissenting).

         We granted the State's application for permission to appeal in this case to consider "[w]hether law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion of a probationer's criminal wrongdoing to support a search of the probationer's residence under an agreed-to warrantless-search condition of probation."

         II. Standard of Review

         On appeal from a ruling on a motion to suppress, we will uphold the trial court's findings of fact unless the evidence preponderates against those findings. State v. Stanfield, 554 S.W.3d 1, 8 (Tenn. 2018) (citing State v. Hawkins, 519 S.W.3d 1, 32 (Tenn. 2017); State v. Bell, 429 S.W.3d 524, 528 (Tenn. 2014); State v. Climer, 400 S.W.3d 537, 556 (Tenn. 2013); State v. Turner, 297 S.W.3d 155, 160 (Tenn. 2009); State v. Day, 263 S.W.3d 891, 900 (Tenn. 2008); State v. Odom, 928 S.W.2d 18, 23 (Tenn. 1996)). "'Questions of credibility of the witnesses, the weight and value of the evidence, and resolution of conflicts in the evidence are matters entrusted to the trial judge as the trier of fact.'" Id. (quoting Hawkins, 519 S.W.3d at 32; Odom, 928 S.W.2d at 23). "The party prevailing in the trial court on a motion to suppress 'is entitled to the strongest legitimate view of the evidence adduced at the suppression hearing as well as all reasonable and legitimate inferences that may be drawn from that evidence.'" Id. (quoting Turner, 297 S.W.3d at 160; Odom, 928 S.W.2d at 23). We review the trial court's application of the law to the facts de novo with no presumption of correctness. Id. (citing Hawkins, 519 S.W.3d at 32-33; State v. Walton, 41 S.W.3d 75, 81 (Tenn. 2001)); Turner, 297 S.W.3d at 160.

         III. Analysis

         A. The Fourth Amendment

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that "'[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause . . . .'" State v. Christensen, 517 S.W.3d 60, 68 (Tenn. 2017) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. IV); State v. McCormick, 494 S.W.3d 673, 678 (Tenn. 2016). Similarly, article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution provides that "'the people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions, from unreasonable searches and seizures[.]'" Christensen, 517 S.W.3d at 68 (quoting Tenn. Const. art. I, § 7).

         The search and seizure provisions of the federal and state constitutions are "'identical in intent and purpose.'" Id. (quoting Sneed v. State, 423 S.W.2d 857, 860 (Tenn. 1968)). "Under both constitutional guarantees, reasonableness is 'the ultimate touchstone.'" Stanfield, 554 S.W.3d at 9 (citing Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006); McCormick, 494 S.W.3d at 679). Determining whether a particular search is "unreasonable" and therefore a violation of the rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment "'depends upon all of the circumstances surrounding the search . . . and the nature of the search . . . itself.'" Turner, 297 S.W.3d at 160 (quoting United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 537 (1985)). While a search is presumptively reasonable when conducted on the basis of probable cause and with a warrant, warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable regardless of whether law enforcement actually had probable cause to conduct a search. See McCormick, 494 S.W.3d at 678-79 (citations omitted). However, there are circumstances where the reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment and article I, section 7 requires neither probable cause nor a warrant. See Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 846-47 (2006); Turner, 297 S.W.3d at 157.

         B. Warrantless and Suspicionless[1] Search of Angela Hamm's Residence (Probationer)

         In State v. Stanfield, this Court recently considered whether reasonable suspicion must support a warrantless search of a parolee's residence. Stanfield, 554 S.W.3d at 4. Relying on Samson v. California and State v. Turner, we held that the search of defendant Winsett's residence was constitutionally reasonable based solely upon Winsett's status as a parolee, even though officers neither had a search warrant nor sought to obtain a warrant[2] prior to searching the residence. Id. at 11.

         Also, initially at issue in Stanfield was the relative expectation of privacy attending co-defendant Stanfield, who was on probation at the time of the search. Id. at 8. However, it was not necessary for us to reach the issue of whether reasonable suspicion was required to conduct a warrantless search of a probationer's residence because the search of defendant Stanfield's belongings fell within the purview of common authority. Id. at 15. We now address whether, under Tennessee law, reasonable suspicion is required for law enforcement officers to conduct a warrantless search of a probationer's residence.

         1. State v. Stanfield

         In reaching our decision in Stanfield, this Court undertook a thorough review of Samson v. California and State v. Turner, [3] both of which addressed parole searches conducted without reasonable suspicion pursuant to a search condition. We noted that in Tur ...

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