Elements for the plain view doctrine in Pennsylvania

by | Apr 1, 2014 | Suppression

In Pennsylvania, plain view is a type of exception or excuse from the constitutional provision requiring that all searches must be conducted pursuant to a warrant.  Under the plain view exception, the Commonwealth must prove that the officer was lawfully present in his location, the item was in plain view, and the criminal nature of the item was readily apparent.

Element 1: Officer lawfully present

This element essentially requires that the officer be lawfully present where he is viewing the item.  This means that the officer cannot be in any constitutionally protected areas (such as the inside of a home) without legal justification.  If the officer violates this element, plain view cannot apply and the evidence shall be suppressed.

Element 2: The item was in plain view

This element requires that the item viewed must actually be in plain view.  The plain view exception exists because if an item is in plain view, it technically means there is no search.  Therefore, the officer is forbidden from doing anything that would be considered a search.

Element 3: The criminal nature of the item must be readily apparent

Again, the justification for allowing the plain view exception to the warrant requirement is that the police officer’s actions do not necessarily constitute a search or seizure.  But, if the criminal nature of an item is not immediately apparent to the officer and it requires more investigation or testing of the item, then the plain view exception cannot be applicable to the case.

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