Tennessee Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to a Search Warrant in Sexual Exploitation of a Minor Case

May 22, 2019

In an opinion released today, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the validity of a search warrant used to gather evidence in a case involving charges of sexual exploitation of a minor. 

The defendant, Anthony Jerome Miller, was indicted on one count of sexual exploitation of a minor after a detective from the Morristown Police Department executed a search warrant that resulted in the recovery of more than fifty images of a minor engaged in sexual activity from the defendant’s computer.  

Mr. Miller moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the search warrant, arguing that the search was void because the warrant was not obtained by the district attorney general, referencing Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1007.  The statute raised by the defendant states that “[n]o process, except as otherwise provided, shall be issued for the violation of [section] 39-17-1003 . . . unless it is issued upon the application of the district attorney general of the district.” 

The trial court denied Mr. Miller’s motion to suppress, determining that a search warrant was not “process” under the statute.  Mr. Miller then pleaded guilty to the charged offense and received a sentence of six years’ incarceration, suspended after service of 180 days.  He reserved a certified question of law at the time of entering his plea as to whether the search warrant obtained in this case was subject to the limitation found in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1007.  On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court.  The Supreme Court granted permission to appeal in this case to determine this issue of first impression before the state’s highest court.

In its decision, the Supreme Court considered the general law pertaining to search warrants, noting that none of the applicable statutes or rules of criminal procedure provided for search warrants to be obtained solely by a district attorney general.  The Court also considered that, had the Legislature intended to limit the general law on search warrants through the statute at issue, it would have explicitly provided for such a limitation.  Furthermore, the Court rejected the defendant’s arguments that “process,” as provided in the statute, includes a search warrant. 

The Court held that the statute raised by Mr. Miller was not applicable to the search warrant obtained in this case.  As a result, the Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Miller’s conviction.  In so doing, the Court overruled two prior Court of Criminal Appeals cases, to the extent that they held otherwise. 

To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in State of Tennessee v. Anthony Jerome Miller, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.