Law enforcement has broad leeway during a traffic stop to determine probable cause or secure a piece of evidence. Generally speaking, the officer can seize anything in plain view, whether the interview takes place in a vehicle, a home or even a place of employment. The prosecution may then use that evidence to file charges.
The “plain view doctrine” is a notable exception to the citizens’ protections from unreasonable (i.e., without a warrant) search and seizure as protected by the Fourth Amendment. Officers can also “exigent circumstances,” which enable them to enter private property if they believe suspects will destroy evidence or someone is in imminent danger.
Valid examples of plain-view seizure
There are three critical requirements for the legal application of plain view exception:
- Law enforcement has the right to be at the location where they see the evidence.
- The occupant invites officers onto private property, where the officer then sees incriminating evidence.
- The officer has a reasonable suspicion that the spotted evidence is connected to a crime or illegal.
These are key examples of why inviting officers into private property is always risky, even if they “just have a few questions.”
Dismissing the seized evidence
When evidence is “found in plain sight,” it is crucial to determine whether the evidence was truly legally obtained. Those facing criminal charges can discuss the details of the encounter and arrest with an experienced criminal law attorney who practices here in Colorado. They understand the fine points of plain view doctrine and can fight instances where officers overstep their legal boundaries and violate the client’s rights.