'Plain view' in search and seizure law

The Fourth Amendment provides certain protections to individuals when it comes to police searches and seizures. When Fourth Amendment protections are found to apply to a given search or seizure, police generally will need to comply with certain rules/procedures in order for the search/seizure to be valid. What these rules/procedures are varies depending on the situation.

Now, there are some situations in which a search or seizure might not trigger the standard Fourth Amendment protections. One of these situations is when the object involved is in "plain view."

Under the plain view rule, when an object is out in plain view, the standard Fourth Amendment protections generally do not apply to the object. Thus, police observing and then seizing an object that is in plain view might not trigger Fourth Amendment protections.

When is an object in plain view? Generally, an object is in plain view when it is out where the public could see it with ordinary and unenhanced vision.

Given that an object being in plain view can exempt police from having to meet the typical Fourth Amendment requirements to seize the object, whether or not a given object that police seized as evidence in a case was in plain view can sometimes be a major issue in drug cases and other criminal cases.

The specifics of the plain view rule and other rules regarding searches and seizures can often be rather complex. Thus, when issues regarding these rules arise in a drug case, having the representation of a defense attorney with a strong knowledge of these rules can be quite a help to a defendant.

Source: FindLaw, "When the Fourth Amendment Applies," Accessed May 1, 2015

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