What is “Plain View” Doctrine?

The plain view doctrine is an exception to the warrant requirement which allows officers to seize items which they observe and immediately recognize as evidence or contraband while they are lawfully present in an area protected by the 4th Amendment. If a police officer is in a place where he has the legal right to be, it is not considered a search – but is in “plain view.” If it is not a search, then it is not something subject to being suppressed. The law protects your reasonable expectation of privacy. This reasonable test only extends to expectations of privacy, however, and not places. Thus, looking into a car is permitted. As well, using a flashlight to peer into a vehicle is also permissible. Anything that can be readily seen from the street would be considered in “plain view.” Binoculars, fly-overs, etc. have been held to be constitutionally permissible by the Courts.

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