Search Warrant Typo Frees Tenn. Drug Dealer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --

A convicted drug dealer serving 29 years for drug dealing and weapons charges will be set free because of a small mistake on a search warrant.

According to the criminal court of appeals, a typo or clerical error invalidates the entire search warrant.

When police obtained a search warrant for Joshua Hayes, they found bricks of marijuana, a safe full of cocaine, pills and cash. There were enough weapons to arm a small town's police department, police said.

But when the intake judge was making copies of the multiple search warrants, he signed the warrant and wrote 10:35 p.m. when it was actually 10:35 a.m.

The mistake did not go unnoticed. Judge Steve Dozier discussed it with the lawyers and jury. It was dismissed as a typo, a mistake that had no bearing on the authenticity or quality of the evidence. Hayes was found guilty and sentenced to 29 years in prison.

But the Criminal Court of Appeals said the search warrant had a fatal flaw and that all evidence must be thrown out.

"When you look at it in the whole context, it was obviously just a clerical error," said District Attorney General Torry Johnson of Davidson County.

But Tennessee state law does not provide for an error on a search warrant -- even if it was made in good faith, even if it's a typo.

"There ought to be a mechanism to allow good a search warrant when it's an obvious mistake," said Johnson.

State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, agrees. For three years, he has attempted to pass a law that would allow a search warrant that has a typo, as long as the mistake was made in good faith and does not compromise evidence.

"We've tried to work with the bar on this, and we believe it makes sense and it serves justice, and we've passed it in the Senate, but when it goes to the House, the criminal defense lawyers have very effectively lobbied against it," said McNally.

This year, he said, he hopes the House's new look will take a fresh look at this bill.

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