Moving property in order to view its serial number removes the seizure of the property from the "plain view" doctrine.
After a bullet had been fired through the floor of the accused's apartment, striking and injuring a man in the apartment below, police officers entered the accused's apartment and searched for the shooter, for other shooting victims, and for weapons. The officers found and seized three weapons. While there, one of the officers noticed expensive stereo equipment, which seemed out of place in the otherwise squalid apartment. Suspecting the equipment was stolen, the officer recorded the equipment's serial numbers, moving some of the equipment to do so. Upon reporting the serial numbers to police headquarters, the officer was advised that some of the equipment had been taken in an armed robbery, and he seized that equipment immediately. Other stereo equipment was later determined to have been taken in the same armed robbery, and a warrant was obtained to seize that equipment. The accused was indicted in an Arizona state court for the armed robbery during which the stereo equipment was stolen. The trial court granted the accused's motion to suppress the stereo equipment on the ground that the search was done an unreasonable search and seizure. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Arizona affirmed, viewing the obtaining of the serial numbers as an additional search unrelated to the exigency which validated the entry, thus violating the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Arizona denied review.
Was the search and seizure of the stereo equipment violative of the Fourth Amendment?
The Court held that that the officer's moving of the equipment constituted a "search" separate and apart from the search for the shooter, victims, and weapons that was the lawful objective of his entry. Such a search was not "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment because it was not sustainable under the "plain view" doctrine absent probable cause, which was not present by the State's admission.