The plain view doctrine is an exception to the search warrant requirement that allows an officer to seize contraband when the contraband is seen from a place where the officer has a lawful right to be.
The plain view doctrine is an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement that allows law enforcement officers to seize evidence or contraband that is in plain view and immediately apparent from a place where the officer has a lawful right to be. The doctrine provides an important tool for law enforcement officers to seize evidence and contraband that may be used to support criminal charges.
Under the plain view doctrine, an officer may seize evidence or contraband without a warrant if three conditions are met: first, the officer must have a lawful right to be in the location where the evidence or contraband is found; second, the officer must discover the evidence or contraband by chance or accident; and third, the evidence or contraband must be immediately apparent as evidence or contraband.
Landmark Cases on the Plain View Doctrine
The plain view doctrine has been the subject of several landmark cases, including Horton v. California (1990). In that case, the Supreme Court held that the plain view doctrine applied even if the officer did not know in advance that the evidence or contraband would be present and that the officer’s discovery of the evidence or contraband was not the result of an illegal search or seizure.
In Coolidge v. New Hampshire (1971), the Supreme Court established a four-part test to determine whether the plain view doctrine applies in a particular case. The test requires that the officer have a lawful right to be in the location where the evidence or contraband is found; that the officer discovers the evidence or contraband by chance or accident; that the officer has probable cause to believe that the evidence or contraband is incriminating; and that the incriminating nature of the evidence or contraband is immediately apparent.
The plain view doctrine has been criticized by some legal scholars and civil liberties advocates, who argue that it can lead to violations of individual rights and liberties and can infringe upon the privacy of citizens. Critics argue that the doctrine allows officers to conduct searches without a warrant or probable cause and can lead to the seizure of evidence and contraband that may not have been discovered in the absence of the doctrine.
On This Site
- Criminal Justice | Section 4.5: The Legal Environment of Policing
- Procedural Law » Section 3.4: Search Warrant Exceptions »
On Other Sites
- Chang, R. (2007). Why the plain view doctrine should not apply to digital evidence. Suffolk J. Trial & App. Advoc., 12, 31.
[ Glossary ]
Last Modified: 07/25/2023