Tuesday, September 22, 2020


Article Index

Seizures of Items in Plain View. In certain situations, police may seize evidence that is in plain view without a warrant. First, the police must not “violate the Fourth Amendment in arriving at the place from which the evidence could be plainly viewed.” Thus, police may lawfully seize evidence in plain view when executing a search warrant or arrest warrant and when conducting a lawful warrantless search. Second, the incriminating character of the evidence seized must be immediately apparent, and police may not disturb or further investigate an item to discern its evidentiary value without probable cause. To establish probable cause, however, police may lawfully engage in investigatory action not considered a search under the Fourth Amendment.

Warrantless seizures of evidence based on the plain view doctrine may be valid even if the officers expected to find the seized evidence. The plain view doctrine also permits police to seize a container if its incriminating character is immediately apparent, and police may search inside the container if its contents are in plain view. In Minnesota v. Dickerson, the Court expanded the plain view doctrine to include a “plain touch” corollary. Several courts have also adopted “plain smell” and “plain hearing” corollaries.


Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law