Plain view search and seizure in San Diego – what is it?

If you are suddenly at the receiving end of the police seizing items from your home without a warrant, you may be wondering whether they are legally allowed to do so. In fact there are occasions when this is a legitimate action for police to take. If you are having problems with this sort of situation, it may be a good idea to speak to a San Diego Criminal Lawyer.

In the meantime, we are going to take a look at plain view search and seizure. We are going to explain what it is, and look at two cases which should help make things a little clearer.

What is plain view search and seizure?

Most of the time the police require a warrant in order to seize items from your premises; and they can only normally seize items that relate directly to the warrant. The exception to this is when plain view search and seizure comes into play.

This applies when a police officer sees an item that they believe to be evidence or contraband. The viewing has to be of an item which is in plain sight, without being touched. The sighting also has to be made from an area where the police officer is legally allowed to be. If the criteria are satisfied, the police are allowed to seize items to which the sighting applies, without a warrant being in place.

Horton vs California

This was a case in which it was found that plain view search and seizure was used correctly. The police were issued with a warrant to search premises for the proceeds of a robbery. Whilst the search was taking place, police noticed weapons that had been used in the robbery, in plain sight. It was argued by Horton that the police knew about the weapons before they entered the premises. This meant that the discovery had not been an inadvertent one. It was at this point that the courts used the case to clarify that the discovery of items did not have to be inadvertent. All that was necessary was that the police were on the premises lawfully, that the items were in plain sight and that they could immediately be recognized as evidence of the crime.

Arizona vs Hicks

This case had a different type of outcome, as far as the police were concerned. They were investigating a shooting, and entered an apartment where the bullet had been fired from. While in the apartment, one of the police officers moved an expensive stereo system so that he could see the serial numbers on it, and then seized it. The system was found to have been stolen during a robbery, but the court found that the police officer should not have moved the system, as he had no reason to suspect it was contraband just by looking at it.

Hopefully, you can now see what plain view search and seizure is all about and what you need to consider if you are ever affected by it.

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