Generally, under the 4th Amendment, police officers are required to obtain a warrant or identify an accepted exception to the 4th Amendment in order to conduct searches and seizures of individuals. One of these exceptions is the doctrine of plain view.
The doctrine of plain view is fairly simply to understand. In a nutshell, any criminal conduct or evidence that a police officer observes in plain view is subject to search and seizure without a warrant or probable cause.
Elements of Plain View
There are several requirements that a police officer must fulfill in order to use the plain view doctrine. First, the police officer must have seen the criminal activity or evidence from a position or location that the police officer was legally allowed to be in. Second, the police officer must be able to physically access the criminal activity or evidence. Finally, the activity or evidence must be immediately identifiable by the police officer as being criminal in nature.
Restricting Plain View
Although plain view is fairly straight forward, there are some restrictions to how police officers can use the plain view doctrine. First, the police officer cannot move or lift an item to determine whether it is criminal in nature. In Arizona v. Hicks, a police officer who was conducting a search of the defendant’s apartment observed an expensive stereo in the defendant’s living room. Thinking it may have been stolen, the police officer lifted the stereo to check the serial number to see whether it matched a stereo that had been previously reported stolen. After matching the serial numbers, the police officer seized the evidence and arrested the defendant. In this case, since the stereo was not immediately identifiable as stolen property and required the police officer to move the item to check the serial number, the Supreme Court excluded it as evidence illegally obtained under the plain view doctrine.
If you have been charged with a crime due to criminal activity or evidence obtained due to a police officer’s observations using the plain view doctrine, it is important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to zealously defend you in your case. Don’t hesitate to Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.