While the Fourth Amendment provides Tennessee residents with significant protection, police officers in the Volunteer State are permitted to search automobiles, residences and people in certain situations. The Constitution only prohibits unreasonable searches, which means that the rights it provides do not apply when law enforcement has good reason to believe that evidence of a crime or ongoing criminal activity will be discovered. This belief is usually referred to as probable cause.
Most law enforcement searches are conducted after the police officers involved obtain a search warrant. Judges only issue search warrants when they are presented with convincing probable cause, and they often place strict limits on where police officers may look and what they may look for. This is known as the scope of a search warrant, and items seized during a search may be excluded when police exceed it. However, exceptions are made when police officers notice items not mentioned in a search warrant in plain view.
There are situations where police officers may conduct a search without first obtaining a search warrant. Warrants are not required when police officers are in pursuit of a suspect, observe evidence being destroyed or must enter a premises to protect its occupants. Police officers are also permitted to search suspects they take into custody and check their surroundings for possible threats.
Evidence of criminal activity is often discovered after suspects have given police officers permission to conduct warrantless searches. Attorneys with criminal law experience may advise individuals to refuse such requests even if they think that they have nothing to hide. This is because police are allowed to mislead individuals they believe may have committed a crime, and they could say they are looking for one thing, such as a weapon, when they are really looking for something else, such as stolen property.