Plain View Searches

Though most police searches are conducted under the authorization of a warrant, sometimes the police will happen upon incriminating evidence and seize it. Under the doctrine of plain view searches, this is legal if done properly. A Sacramento criminal defense attorney will be able to explain to you how plain view searches and whether you can contest it if you think your property was seized illegally.

The plain view doctrine holds that the police can legally seize an object they believe is instrumental to a crime without a warrant if three conditions are met: 1) the police have lawfully reached the position from which they are able to see the object; 2) the police can lawfully access the object in question; and 3) the object’s instrumentality to a crime is “immediately apparent,” which means that simply viewing the object must create probable cause for the officer to suspect it without any further handling or searching. (An officer cannot turn over an object to look at its serial number and still claim that its search was in plain view, according to one Supreme Court case.) The police are also required to reach the position to view the object legally, without violating any Fourth Amendment rules. Additionally, some states require that the search be done inadvertently, or by accident, to be considered a plain view search.

An experienced Sacramento criminal defense attorney might attack a plain view search in one of two ways. One tactic is to ask the police if they can prove that the incriminating nature of the object was immediately apparent or if they had to conduct an intrusive investigation on the object before determining that it was incriminating. If they did, then the plain view doctrine is inapplicable. The second tactic is to ask how the police got into the position to see the item and whether they were there legally. If they entered an area they had no right to be, or searched an area beyond what is reasonably part of their expected search, such as searching a photo album when they are looking for a weapon, then the plain view exception might not apply.

If you have questions about whether a police search was constitutional, do not hesitate to contact the law office of dedicated Sacramento criminal defense attorney Param Pabla for a free consultation.

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