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Law School Case Brief

Horton v. California - 496 U.S. 128, 110 S. Ct. 2301 (1990)


Two conditions must be satisfied to justify a warrantless seizure under the plain view exception to the search warrant requirement. First, not only must the item be in plain view, its incriminating character must also be immediately apparent. Second, not only must the officer be lawfully located in a place from which the object can be plainly seen, but he or she must also have a lawful right of access to the object itself.


A police officer investigating an armed robbery determined that there was probable cause to search the accused's home for the property stolen in the robbery and for the weapons used by the robbers. The warrant authorizing the search of the accused's home, however, authorized a search for only the stolen property. The officer searched the accused's home pursuant to the warrant but found no stolen property. In the course of the search, the officer discovered the robbery weapons in plain view and seized the weapons and several other items. The officer testified that while he was searching for the stolen property, he also was interested in finding other evidence connecting the accused to the crime. At the accused's trial in a California state court, the court refused to suppress the items found in the accused's home, and the accused was convicted after a jury trial. The California Court of Appeals affirmed the decision while the California Supreme Court denied the accused's petition for review.


Did the “plain view” doctrine authorize the seizure of the items not listed in the search warrant, even if the discovery of the items was not inadvertent?




The Court held that, though inadvertence was a characteristic of most legitimate plain view seizures, it was not a necessary condition, so that the items seized from petitioner's home were discovered during a lawful search authorized by a valid warrant. The Court further posited that when the weapons were discovered, it was immediately apparent to the police officer that they constituted incriminating evidence. The officer had probable cause, not only to obtain a warrant to search for the stolen property, but also to believe that the weapons and handguns had been used in the crime he was investigating. Thus, the Court concluded that the search was authorized by the warrant, and the seizure was authorized by the plain view doctrine. The scope of the search was not enlarged in the slightest by the omission of any reference to the weapons in the warrant.

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