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Horton v. California

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Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128 (1990), was a criminal procedure case heard by the Supreme Court that dealt with the “plain view” doctrine.

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Contents

Summary of Case Facts

This case involved the perpetrators of a theft against a member of a coin club. Perpetrators waited for a coin collector to return to his home where they shocked him with a stun gun, bound him, and robbed him. The victim was able to identify the assailant’s voice and combined with an eyewitness account of the perpetrator leaving the scene of the crime, the assailant was caught. The officer working the case surmised that the assailant likely had the stolen property at his home and completed an affidavit to that effect, seeking a search warrant of the assailant’s property. The warrant issued allowed only a search for the stolen property. The officer searched the assailant’s home but did not find the stolen property, he did, however, find in plain view, firearms, stun guns, and other corroborating evidence of the assailant’s involvement in the crime. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence seized that wasn’t authorized in the search warrant.

Issue

Was the officer’s seizure of evidence of the crime (not provided for in the search warrant) in plain view a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

Holding and Law

No. The search by the officer, under a valid search warrant, allowed for seizure of incriminating evidence in plain view to the officer. The officer had probable cause not only to search for stolen property but also to be suspect of evidence clearly used in the commission of the crime. The court offered a three part test for the plain view doctrine, requiring,

  1. the discovering officer be lawfully present where the evidence is in plain view
  2. that the “object's incriminating character must be ‘immediately apparent’”
  3. that the “officer must have a lawful right of access to the object itself”

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