NASHVILLE – Action in the Tennessee General Assembly continued to shift from legislative committees to the floor of the Senate as we approach the final weeks of the 2011 legislative session. Committees worked diligently to move a number of important education and anti-crime bills onto the floor of the Senate. Meanwhile, it is the state budget that will be the central focus of attention during the remainder of this legislative session.
Senate approves bill to allow the “Good Faith Exception” to the “Exclusionary Rule” for Tennessee Courts
The State Senate voted 26 to 4 to approve legislation to enact what is known as the “common sense” or “good faith exception” to the “exclusionary rule” regarding suppression of evidence in violation to the fourth amendment or unreasonable search and seizure. Senate Bill 559 would allow a judge to give a jury access to evidence or facts obtained as a result of a search or seizure which contains a minor technical error.
The bill attempts to balance the scales of justice to a standard embraced by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Leon and Herring v. United States, which was the law in Tennessee prior to 1979. The standard allows the judge and jury to weigh all the facts and still administer justice in an objective manner.
Prior to 1979, only evidence obtained by unlawful search and seizure was excluded. That year the Tennessee General Assembly changed the standard to unlawful or invalid search and seizure. Unfortunately, the lack of action by the courts as well as the legislature has precipitated the possible release of murderers and rapists since passage of the 1979 law due to minor defects in a warrant.
Current law has hampered prosecution of many hardened criminals, including a man who confessed to authorities for committing the aggravated rape, robbery and murder of multiple young women but who had his conviction vacated as there was a technical error. The technical error was made by the magistrate in the preparation of the warrant. The court held that even though the rapist / murderer had collected “trophies” from the victims, those items should not have been admitted into evidence because of the minor defect in the warrant.
The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
Voter Registration / Citizenship -- The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation on final consideration aiming to strengthen the integrity of elections in Tennessee. Senate Bill 352 requires the Coordinator of Elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety’s motor vehicle database to ensure non-United States citizens are not registered to vote in this state. The U.S. Constitution already requires citizenship to vote. In addition, federal law makes it a crime to knowingly make a false statement or claim regarding citizenship upon registering to vote. The bill authorizes the Coordinator of Elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with relevant federal and state agencies and county records for the same purpose. If evidence exists that a registered voter is not a citizen, the Coordinator shall notify the county election commission who will send a notice to the voter inquiring about his or her eligibility to vote. If the voter does not provide evidence of citizenship, the voter would be purged from the voter registration database. The voter may appeal to the State Election Commission if they want to challenge the decision.
Federal Funds Owed -- Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes told members of the Senate Finance Committee that the federal government has acknowledged they owe Tennessee approximately $82 million in Special Disability Workload funds. Over the past 35 years, the federal Social Security Administration has misclassified some Tennesseans and put them in Medicaid when they should have been in the Medicare program. Emkes said the administration, however, does not know if or when the funds will be repaid. The administration did present a contingency plan in the case the funds are paid this year.