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Loudoun County Attorneys > Blog > Criminal Defense > The Plain View Doctrine

The Plain View Doctrine

When an officer enters a home or is conducting a traffic stop and encounters evidence of illegal activity they may seize any contraband or evidence of a crime if it is within the plain view of the officer. This is known as the plain view doctrine. If an officer was present lawfully that contraband or evidence of a crime could be used against you in court.

If, however, the officer was not there lawfully, that seizure could not be allowed to be admitted because the circumstances leading to its recovery were unlawful; this is known as the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine does have its limitations, though. One of these is that it must not be inevitable that the evidence or contraband were to be discovered.

The Plain View Doctrine

Normally in order to seize evidence an officer needs a warrant. However, there are noted exceptions to this requirement, one being the plain view doctrine. When an officer is lawfully in a place protected by the Fourth Amendment, for example a home, and while there they observe evidence of a crime, they may seize it if it is readily apparent to them that the item is evidence of a crime. They may not, however, move or manipulate the object if it is not readily apparent that the item is evidence of a crime. For example, an officer legally in a home may seize a bong that he knows, or has probable cause to suspect, was used to smoke marijuana. However, an officer may not pick up a bong and study it if its nature is not immediately apparent to the officer.

The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

The poisonous tree doctrine states that if the entrance into the home or the stop that lead to the discovery of the evidence is challenged in court, and the judge finds the officer did not act lawfully in his manner of entrance or by his presence, then the evidence gained from the search can also be suppressed. This would occur if an officer gained entry into the home in violation of the Fourth Amendment, or if a traffic stop made by an officer was not a valid stop. This rule is subject to three limitations, however. It will not apply if the evidence is discovered through a means independent of the illegal activity, if its discovery was inevitable, or if there was an attenuation between the illegal activity and the discovery of the evidence. This attenuation means that the relation of the illegal activity and the discovery of the evidence was so remote that it should not be a factor in the suppression of the evidence.

There are many factors to consider when charged with a crime. One of these is the theory of the case and how you or your attorney will go about trying to resolve or try the case in court. Criminal charges can be a scary thing, it is important to have an attorney on your side that understands the nuances of the law. At Simms Showers in Leesburg we are dedicated to representing our clients throughout Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington, Clarke and Frederick Counties to the best of our abilities and give them the individual attention they deserve.

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