Plain View Doctrine Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Plain View Doctrine, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Plain View Doctrine?

n.The clause in criminal law whereby a law enforcement officer can search a place or seize objects without having a proper search warrant if he discovers that any criminal activity was going on or product of crime say a pistol is seen without any entry or search.

History and Meaning of Plain View Doctrine

The Plain View Doctrine is a legal principle in criminal law that allows police officers to seize evidence and make an arrest without a search warrant, as long as they are lawfully present in a location, and the incriminating evidence or contraband is in plain view, or easily spotted. The doctrine is based on the idea that if a police officer is lawfully present in a location, they don't need a warrant to seize evidence that is immediately apparent as illegal. The principle was established by the US Supreme Court in the 1970 case Coolidge v. New Hampshire.

Examples of Plain View Doctrine

  1. During a routine traffic stop, a police officer notices that a driver has a bag of marijuana sitting on the passenger seat. The officer has the legal right to seize the marijuana, and arrest the driver without obtaining a warrant, since the evidence was in plain view.

  2. A police officer enters a home to respond to a domestic disturbance call, and sees a handgun lying on the coffee table. The officer can seize the weapon and arrest the owner without a warrant, since the gun was in plain view.

  3. While walking on a beach, a police officer sees a package floating in the ocean. Upon closer inspection, the officer determines that the package contains illegal drugs. The officer can seize the drugs and arrest anyone associated with them without a warrant, as the evidence was in plain view.

Legal Terms Similar to Plain View Doctrine

  1. Exigent circumstances: The legal principle that allows police officers to conduct a search or make an arrest without a warrant when there is a potential loss of evidence, a risk of danger to the public, or an immediate threat to an individual's safety.

  2. Search incident to arrest: The principle that allows police officers to search an individual and their immediate surroundings after making a lawful arrest, without obtaining a warrant.

  3. Reasonable suspicion: The threshold of suspicion required by police officers to briefly detain an individual for questioning or conduct a limited search for weapons, based on specific and articulable facts.