Tennessee Supreme Court Affirms Mother's Convictions For First-Degree Murder, Aggravated Child Abuse Of Newborn Twins

July 20, 2018

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the convictions of Lindsey Lowe for first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse, stemming from the deaths of her newborn twins caused by her smothering the infants shortly after birth. 

Prior to trial, Lowe moved to suppress evidence obtained under a search warrant, based on the fact that one of the three copies of the search warrant stated the warrant was executed at 11:35 p.m., when the other two copies stated that the warrant was executed at 11:35 a.m.  The trial court denied the motion to suppress, relying on the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act (“the ERRA”).  Lowe raised the suppression issue, and other issues, on appeal following her convictions.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgments of the trial court, and the defendant filed an application for permission to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court granted appeal in this case to address the issue of whether the ERRA violates the Separation of Powers Clause of the Tennessee Constitution and other alleged errors raised by Lowe.  The Court also requested briefing on the additional issue of whether the Court should expand the good-faith exception adopted in State v. Davidson to include technical violations during the service of a search warrant when the search is otherwise constitutional.

In its decision, the Court first held that the ERRA encroaches on the judiciary’s authority by legislatively mandating an exception to the exclusionary rule. As a result, the Court held that the statute violates the Separation of Powers Clause of the Tennessee Constitution.  The Court determined that the trial court erred in relying upon the ERRA in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. 

However, the Court then adopted a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule set forth in Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 when “a magistrate has issued a warrant in compliance with constitutional requirements but, in good faith, fails to comply with Rule 41’s technical requirement of three ‘exact’ copies.” When a defendant has established that a search warrant, or its supporting affidavit, fails to comply with the technical requirements of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, the State then has the burden of establishing that the technical noncompliance was due to a good-faith error and that the error did not prejudice the defendant.  In this case, the Court concluded that the record established that the error was made in good faith and that the error did not prejudice Lowe.  Based on this conclusion, the Court upheld the trial court’s admission of the evidence seized under the search warrant.  Finally, the Court rejected the other issues raised by Lowe and affirmed her convictions.

To read the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion in State of Tennessee v. Lindsey Brooke Lowe, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.