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Law School Case Brief

State v. Pruss - 145 Idaho 623, 181 P.3d 1231 (2008)

Rule:

The plain view exception allows police officers to make warrantless seizures of evidence viewed from a location where the officer has a right to be. Thus, the plain view exception applies to warrantless seizures of readily visible items, not warrantless searches. Application of the plain view exception also requires that officer have a lawful right of access to the object itself.

Facts:

The sheriff's department was investigating property damage crime involving logging equipment and public utility facilities that had been shot with a high-powered rifle. They found a frame structure camouflaged with tree branches that was about six feet square and three to five feet high. Police ordered defendant out of the structure, arrested him, and took him to jail. During the search of defendant's tent, the deputies seized his MAK-90 rifle and transmitter. Based upon the information obtained during the investigation, the State filed a complaint on July 12, 2005, charging Pruss with felony crimes of malicious injury to property and burglary, later amended to charge Pruss with 21 felonies and 14 misdemeanors. Subsequently, Pruss moved to suppress the items obtained from the search of the hooch on the ground that the warrantless search and seizure violated the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of Idaho. The State contended that Pruss did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the hooch, and that the search was incident to a lawful arrest. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court held that the search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment and ordered all of the items seized suppressed from evidence. The State then timely appealed.

Issue:

Was the search in question justified as a search incident to a lawful arrest, thereby making the evidence seized admissible as evidence?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Idaho held that the search of defendant's hooch could not be justified as a search incident to his arrest. The search began 45 minutes after defendant had been driven away in the patrol car. The intrusion into defendant's hooch could not be justified under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. The deputies' observation of the items from outside the hooch was lawful and could have been information submitted to obtain a search warrant.

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