The Plain View Doctrine: When Can the Police Seize Your Property?

In most cases, officers are required to obtain a search warrant before seizing incriminating evidence. One of the major exceptions to this rule involves the plain view doctrine. This doctrine stipulates that any evidence that is in “plain view” of an officer when he or she is in an authorized area can be seized without obtaining a warrant first.

Lawful Traffic Stop

The plain view doctrine most often comes into play during a routine traffic stop for a crime such as drunk driving. In order to use this warrant exception, an officer must have made a lawful traffic stop. These are the primary conditions for a “lawful” stop by police:

  • The officer had reasonable suspicion that criminal activity took place.
  • The motorist violated a traffic law.

Upon making a stop, officers may seize any evidence that is left out in the open. Government agents must be able to identify this evidence upon sight, rather than having to examine it to determine its legality. Evidence seized under the plain view doctrine can result in a lawful arrest, with the evidence typically being admissible during a court trial.

Questioning the Validity of Plain View

Defense attorneys normally try to determine whether an officer was in an area where he or she was authorized to be when challenging plain view evidence. If the evidence was seized during a traffic stop, lawyers may question whether or not the stop was valid under Texas law.

In determining if evidence was indeed in plain view, courts generally give wide leeway to officers who act inside the scope of their duties. For example, officers may move around a vehicle and look into various sections of it in order to find evidence that is in plain view. When making stops at night, the use of a flashlight is also permitted.

Courts have also ruled that marijuana growing in a field is in plain view of officers flying overhead in search helicopters. That’s because it is easily visible by anyone who might be flying over that particular area. The use of infrared technology to pinpoint marijuana inside a house is forbidden, since it essentially looks through walls and is therefore not in “plain view.”

A criminal defense attorney can help you determine if a traffic stop by police violated your rights.

For a free consultation with a knowledgeable defense lawyer, contact the Miller Law Group today at 713-866-6233.

Posted in Search warrants | Leave a comment