The plain view doctrine

Subject: Law
Type: Descriptive Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 878
Topics: Crime, Gun Control, Gun Violence, Law Enforcement, Police

The Plain View Doctrine serves as an exception for the requirements in the Fourth Amendment. This doctrine guides the courts and the law enforcement officers. According to the Fourth Amendment, it is unlawful for a police officer to undertake unlawful seizures and searches on an individual of private property. For an officer to proceed with a search there must be a warrant from the court. Plain view doctrine provides an exception to the requirements for the search of an individual and private property. This doctrine provides that the police officers have the liberty to seize evidence for a suspected crime without having to first seek the warrant from the court. Should the officer view the contraband the law allows for swift seizure of the same to assist in investigations and prosecution.

The purpose of this doctrine it to make the work of the police officers easier in the prevention of crime and securing crucial materials that would aid in investigations and prosecution. However in the court of law, the contraband may be suppressed hence its importance in providing a crucial lead for the investigations. These materials can only be admissible if they meet certain conditions; the contraband material must be within plain view; the law enforcer has to be within his or her legal rights to be at the spot when the contraband is seen; the incriminating nature of the materials has to be readily noticeable to the officer.

Plain View Doctrine Cases

ARIZONA v. HICKS, (1987)

The respondent was accused of firing a bullet that resulted in injury of an individual in an adjacent floor. The law enforcement officers were quick to enter into the apartments to determine the source of the gun fire and other potential victims. This led to the confiscation of three weapons and a mask. While the police were at this, one of them happened to see two expensive stereo which he suspected to be stolen items. He immediately noted down the serial numbers and sent the serials to the headquarters (FindLaw, 2017).

The result from the headquarters was that a turntable in the room had been reportedly stolen in an armed robbery incident. The officers proceeded to arrest the responded and carry the contraband as an evidence for prosecution. The state court however suppressed this evidence; a decision that was latter affirmed by the Arizona Court of Appeal. The appeal court relied upon Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 , to determine the suitability of the turntable to be admissible in the case. The finding of the court was that the decision by the police officers to check out the serial numbers of the various items in the apartment was a breach of the Fourth Amendment since they had gone in only to determine the source of the bullet fired. They had not obtained the legal search warrants to enter the apartment hence they could not claim any contraband to be used for the prosecution.

The two courts therefore held that the police officers were not justified based on the provisions of the plain view doctrine. The action of the law enforcers was viewed under the Fourth Amendment which required them not to seize items or search the serial numbers since they were not related to the incident. However, the courts held that the police officers acted within their mandate and duty to enter the apartment to check out the reason as to why the gun was fired, the gun used and the individual responsible for the incident that led to the injury of another person (FindLaw, 2017).


In this case, a security officer determined to search the home of Horton in order to get weapons of robbery and the proceeds. The affidavit for the search warrant indicated that the police reports on the investigations included both proceeds and the weapons. However, the, magistrate warrant was to the effect that only the proceeds has to be considered. When the police officer visited the home, he failed to find the proceeds but went ahead to seize the weapons in plain view.

The trial court held that weapon of robbery could not be suppressed and was admissible in the case. This led to the conviction of Horton. The California Court of Appeal also affirmed this ruling. Both the courts agreed with the argument by the police that he was keen to find any evidence that could link him to armed robbery. Horton had relied upon Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 , to attempt to persuade the court to suppress the evidence to no avail. The view of the court was that Fourth Amendment would not prohibit seizure of evidence without warrant in plain view despite in situation where the evidence is probably not inadvertent.

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  1. FindLaw (2017) United States Supreme Court: ARIZONA v. HICKS, (1987), No. 85-1027
  2. Argued: December 8, 1986. Decided: March 3, 1987.
  3. FindLaw (2017) United States Supreme Court: HORTON v. CALIFORNIA, (1990). No. 88-7164. Argued: February 21, 1990   Decided: June 4, 1990.
  4. FindLaw (2017) United States Supreme Court: COOLIDGE v. NEW HAMPSHIRE, (1971).           
  5. No. 323. Argued: January 12, 1971    Decided: June 21, 1971.
  6. FindLaw (2017) United States Supreme Court: MINCEY v. ARIZONA, (1978)
  7. No. 77-5353. Argued: February 21, 1978    Decided: June 21, 1978.
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