What Is The “Plain View” Exception?
In most situations, the police are not allowed to search your property–including your vehicle–without first obtaining your consent or a warrant. There are, however, circumstances where the courts permit warrantless searches. Or to put it another way, there are cases where evidence against you may be admissible in a criminal trial even though the police did not first stop to obtain a search warrant.
One of these exceptions applies when incriminating evidence is in “plain view” of a police officer. Basically, if an officer is lawfully in a particular place and observes an object of “incriminating character” in plain view, it can be seized as evidence, even without a warrant.
To give a simple example, say a police officer stops you for speeding. Normally, this alone would not give the officer justification for searching your vehicle without a warrant. But if during the traffic stop the officer happens to see a bag containing illegal drugs on the seat next to you, this evidence could be seized under the plain-view exception.
Court: Despite Possible Issue with Plain View Exception, Defendant Gave “Implied Consent” to Officer’s Search
It is also important to understand that your consent also eliminates the need for police to rely on a warrant or the plain-view exception. This came up in a recent Fort Bend County criminal case, Blackshire v. State, where a defendant was charged with possession of illegal drugs and several related charges. This case began with a traffic stop–specifically, a police officer pulled the defendant over because his truck had no front license plate.
During the stop, the defendant admitted he did not have a valid driver’s license. Although the defendant was free to leave, the truck itself had to be towed. The defendant elected to remain at the scene until the tow truck arrived.
While waiting, the defendant said he wanted to retrieve some papers from the truck. The officer said he would get the papers for the defendant. The defendant did not object. As he retrieved the papers, the officer saw what appeared to be a prescription drug bottle without a label in the vehicle’s door.
At trial, the judge ruled the pill bottle was admissible as evidence because the defendant “consented” to the officer entering his truck. On appeal, the defense challenged that finding and said the officer’s actions did not fall within the plain-view exception. A three-judge appellate panel upheld the trial court’s ruling with respect to the issue of “implied consent”–i.e., the defendant never objected to the officer entering his truck. But one judge did write separately to note that under the circumstances, the officer’s testimony did not establish any grounds for seizing the “unlabeled pill bottle” as possible criminal evidence.
Contact Pearland Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
Many criminal drug cases fall apart because the police or the prosecution failed to follow the rules with respect to obtaining evidence. An experienced Pearland drug crimes lawyer can review your case and advise you of any weaknesses in the state’s evidence. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today to schedule a case evaluation with a member of our team.