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The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects against unlawful searches and seizures of a person or their property. A warrant is always necessary to conduct a search if law enforcement has reason to believe someone is doing something illegal. However, there is a notable exception to this amendment: the plain view doctrine.

The plain view doctrine states that if something illegal is clearly visible, no warrant is necessary to seize it as evidence. Needless to say, when evidence is obtained this way, it’s very incriminating and frequently leads to conviction in a trial. This is the doctrine typically used by TSA officials conducting airport security screenings. There are six requirements that must be matched for the evidence to be admissible in a court of law.

1. Law enforcement must be in a legal position to see the evidence. They can’t just knock on doors looking for something illegal; they have to be either invited onto someone’s property, executing a warrant, or making an arrest.

2. The officer must observe the item with his or her own senses. Cops cannot conduct a search if they only suspect something illegal may be present.

3. The item must be clearly visible and out in the open. Law enforcement can’t look in closed containers or other areas they can’t otherwise legally access.  Officers also can’t do things like check serial numbers on items they think may have been stolen without a warrant. They may use things like flashlights or night vision if necessary, since they only show what’s already out in the open.

4. Law enforcement can’t invade or intrude on people’s privacy under the reasonable expectation of privacy, as described in United States Supreme Court case law interpreting the Constitution.

5. Officers must have probable cause to think the item falls under one of the following categories:

* It was stolen

* It is illegal

* It was used to commit a crime

* It will assist in arrest or conviction of a criminal

6. Law enforcement cannot go to someone’s property or make a traffic stop in anticipation of finding something illegal. However, this rule does not apply when there is immediate danger or when the time taken to obtain a warrant would lead to the damage or destruction of evidence.

Any criminal lawyer in Las Vegas will be able to ensure that evidence seized without a warrant is only presented in trial if it fits the plain view doctrine. For the best criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas, call Gabe Grasso at 702.868.8866 to schedule a free consultation!

Main photo by redjar