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VEHICLE SEARCHES IN PLAIN VIEW EXCEPTION

Plain View Exception

Continuing the discussion on warrantless vehicle searches, the plain view exception also allows police officers to seize evidence of a crime that is in plain view or plain sight. As long as the police officer has a right to be in the position he is in when he views the contraband, the officer can conduct a warrantless vehicle search under the plain view exception.  

Minnesota law does not consider it a search to see something that is in plain view. If the conditions are met, the plain view search warrant exception can allow the police to search your entire vehicle, including all bags and containers and the trunk.

THERE IS A THREE-PART TEST TO DETERMINE IF THE PLAIN VIEW EXCEPTION APPLIES

  • The initial stop or initial encounter that leads to the plain view must be lawful.
  • The officer must have the lawful right to enter the vehicle and seize the evidence.
  • The incriminating nature of the evidence must be immediately apparently to the officer.

The rationale behind the plain view motor vehicle exception is based upon the proposition that the property is in plain view and as long as the police have a lawful right to be in a position to view the property, there is no violation of the property owner’s privacy interest if the police enter the vehicle and seize the evidence.  

However, the police must first have a lawful right to be in the position they were in when they viewed the evidence. In other words, if the police viewed a marijuana cigarette on the dash following an unlawful traffic stop, the driver would have an argument to make that the officer did not have a lawful right to be in a position to view the marijuana because the officer would not have seen the marijuana if not for the unlawful traffic stop.  

In this case, our Minnesota criminal defense lawyer would most likely successfully argue to have the evidence suppressed.

THE THIRD PRONG OF THE PLAIN VIEW EXCEPTION SHOULD ALSO BE CAREFULLY ANALYZED.

In order for police to enter the vehicle without a warrant and seize property under the plain view exception, it must be immediately apparent to the officer that the item he wishes to seize is contraband or other evidence of a crime.  

For example, a police officer cannot enter a vehicle without a warrant and search a backpack under the plain view exception because he believes he might find marijuana in the backpack. The officer must first see the marijuana, or other evidence of contraband, before entering and searching the vehicle.

CONTACT US

If you feel the police unlawfully searched your vehicle, contact our Minneapolis/St. Paul criminal defense lawyers today.  Our experienced Minnesota criminal defense lawyers will review the facts and circumstances of your case and determine whether the police conducted a lawful warrantless search of your vehicle.

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John T. Arechigo, Esq.

Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense.  He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime. John offers what very few other Twin Cities criminal defense lawyers can offer. His combination of experience, success, connections, resources, accessibility, and complete handling of a client’s file sets him apart from his colleagues.

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