Definition Edit

The plain view doctrine allows an officer to seize without a warrant, evidence and contraband found in plain view during a lawful observation.

Applicable test Edit

For the plain view doctrine to apply for discoveries, the three-prong Horton test requires the officer to be:

  1. lawfully present at the place where the evidence can be plainly viewed,
  2. the officer must have a lawful right of access to the object, and
  3. the incriminating character of the object must be "immediately apparent."[1]

In order for the officer to seize the item, the officer must have probable cause to believe the item is evidence of a crime or is contraband. The police may not move objects to get a better view. In Arizona v. Hicks,[2] the officer was found to have acted unlawfully. While investigating a shooting, the officer moved, without probable cause, stereo equipment to record the serial numbers. The plain view doctrine has also been expanded to include the sub doctrines of plain feel, plain smell, and plain hearing.[3]

In Horton v. California,[4] the court eliminated the requirement that the discovery of evidence in plain view be inadvertent. Previously, "inadvertent discovery" was required leading to difficulties in defining "inadvertent discovery."[5]


  1. Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128 (1990) (full-text).
  2. 480 U.S. 321 (1987) (full-text).
  3. "U.S. Constitution: Fourth Amendment."[1]
  4. 496 U.S. 128 (1990).
  5. See Horton, 496 U.S. at 136-137. See also United States v. Legg, 18 F.3d 240, 242 (4th Cir. 1994) (full-text) (restating the Horton rules).

See also Edit

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