Plain view doctrine

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The plain view doctrine allows law enforcement officers to collect evidence or contraband found in plain view while they are lawfully present. It is an exception to items spelled out in a search warrant and to the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.[1] The doctrine is based on the United States Supreme Court decision Horton v. California.[1] The court held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit warrantless seizures of any evidence which is in plain view.[1]

Horton test[change | change source]

There are three conditions, all of which must be satisfied, in order to uphold a seizure under the plain view doctrine:[2]

  1. the item must be in plain view of the officer,
  2. the officer must lawfully be in the place where he discovered the evidence, and
  3. the incriminating nature of the evidence must be immediately apparent.

Conditions[change | change source]

In order for an officer to seize an item, the officer must have probable cause to believe the item is evidence of a crime or is contraband. The police may not move objects to get a better view. In Arizona v. Hicks (1987), the officer was found to have acted unlawfully.[3] While investigating a shooting, the officer moved—without probable cause—stereo equipment to record the serial numbers.[3] They also seized three weapons and a stocking-cap mask.[3] The court granted the defendants motion to suppress all the evidence that had been seized because his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.[3] The plain view doctrine has also been expanded to include the sub doctrines of plain feel, plain smell, and plain hearing.[4]

Digital searches[change | change source]

In committing crimes, criminals routinely use computers and mobile devices.[5] The courts have so far allowed law enforcement a broad authority to examine all files on computers in search of illegal materials.[6]

References[change | change source]

  1. Priscilla M. Grantham (2010). "Plain View" (PDF). National Center for Justice and the Rule of Law. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  2. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "ARIZONA v. HICKS, (1987)". FindLaw. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  3. "Fourth Amendment: Annotation Four". Annotations to the Fourth Amendment. FindLaw. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  4. Searching and Seizing Computers and Obtaining Electronic Evidence in Criminal Investigations (Office of Legal Education Executive Office for United States Attorneys, 2009), p. ix
  5. David Angeli; Christina Schuck; Avalyn Taylor. "The Plain View Doctrine And Computer Searches" (PDF). Angeli Law Group LLC. Retrieved 12 February 2016. line feed character in |title= at position 24 (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link), p. 18