If Cops Can See It They Can Get It


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The Plain View Doctrine –

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes the requirement that law enforcement officials must obtain a warrant before they conduct a search during a criminal investigation. This general mandate requiring a warrant for a search pertains to premises of different types as well as to motor vehicles.

There are some limited exceptions to the warrant requirement established in the Fourth Amendment. One of the most significant of these exceptions is what is known as the Plain View Doctrine.

Plaint View Doctrine Defined

At its essence, the Plain View Doctrine permits law enforcement officials the ability to seize any evidence or contraband in plain view when they are lawfully in what otherwise would be a protected area. For example, a homeowner gives permission to a law enforcement official to enter a residence. Upon entering, the police officer immediately identifies or sees a baggie of what appears to be cocaine on a table in the room into which the law enforcement official has been invited to enter.

Without the necessity of a warrant, the police officer can seize what appears to be cocaine. Moreover, if the substance in the baggie proves to be cocaine after testing, the seized item can be used against the homeowner (or renter) in a criminal prosecution. A Fourth Amendment objection regarding a lack of a warrant will not stand.

The Primary Elements of the Plain View Doctrine

There are three primary elements to the Plain Sight Doctrine. They are:

  1. The law enforcement official must lawfully be in what otherwise is a protected area.
  2. The item in question must be observed in plain view by the law enforcement official.
  3. The law enforcement official must immediately recognize the item as evidence or contraband without making any additional intrusion into the premises.

If any one of these elements is absent, the plain view warrant exception is not available.

Retain a Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer

A Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer can aid a client in ensuring that his or her Constitutional rights fully are protected in a criminal prosecution. This includes the crucial rights associated with the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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