Marijuana Case – Lawyers Win In The Court of Criminal Appeals

Lawyers Kenneth and Dale Quillen won a marijuana case in the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The Court’s opinion discussed curtilage and exigent circumstances.

This case concerns a law enforcement officer’s warrantless entry into the defendant’s curtilage.   According to Tennessee law, curtilage includes those areas surrounding a dwelling that is necessary, used for the family purposes and for those activities associated with home life. In this case, the “curtilage” was a wooden deck and backyard.

Sheriff’s Deputies were dispatched to a rural address in response to a call reporting an “shots being fired.”  Deputies parked their cars at the bottom of a steep hill and started walking some quarter-mile up to the house.  Deputies stopped a car leaving the residence and questioned a citizen/personal acquaintance who denied gunfire or any disturbance.

Deputies walked to the back of the house and climbed a staircase leading to a wooden deck and the back door. Through the open door, deputies smelled “burnt marijuana.”  Everyone at the  get-together was basically arrested.  Inside the defendant’s duffel bag, deputies found one and a half pounds of marijuana.  There were no firearms on the premises.

The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the deputies had invaded the defendant’s curtilage.

The Court reasoned that the deck was plainly within the curtilage of his home for the purposes of both the Fourth Amendment and article I, section 7. The deck was immediately attached to the house, and a back door opened to it. Although the area was not included within an enclosure, it was largely surrounded by trees. A grill was on the deck, indicating that Defendant used the area for cooking. There were many many toys strewn around the deck and backyard.  This indicated that young children used the area to play. Roberson’s testimony indicates that Defendant used the area for entertaining family and friends.

The Court reversed the conviction and dismissed the case. The defendant did not get his marijuana back.