Arizona v. Hicks

Arizona v. Hicks

United States Supreme Court
480 U.S. 321 (1987)

ISSUE: May police conduct a "search" greater than a cursory examination of an item found in plain view during a lawful search of the premises in order to find out more information about the item?
HOLDING: No, not unless police have probable cause to search the item.
FACTS:
  • A bullet was fired through the floor of D's apartment injuring a man below
  • The police entered D's apartment upon exigent circumstances for search for the shooter, over Vs, and weapons
  • One officer saw an expensive stereo, so he turned it over to read the serial number
  • After reporting the number to headquarters, it was determined that it was taken during an armed robbery and was seized
REASONING:
  • Reading serial number was a search: Recording the serial numbers was not a seizure because it didn't "meaningfully interfere" with D's possessory interest, but it was a search because the officer viewed parts that were otherwise concealed from plain view
    • For the search to be valid, the plain view doctrine must have sustained a seizure of it
  • Probable cause needed to search under PVD: There's no apparent reason why an object should routinely be seizable with PC if PC would otherwise be needed to secure a warrant for it
    • Plain view doctrine is just a practical justification for police to avoid having to risk to themselves and to the evidence of having to leave to get a warrant
    • But that justification doesn't obviate the underlying PC requirement
DISSENT - Powell: Distinction between "looking" at a suspicious object and "moving" it even a few inches trivializes the 4th Amdt.
DISSENT - O'Connor: Question really was whether PC was needed before conducting a cursory examination, but really reasonable suspicion should be all that's required
COMMENTS:
  • Hicks stands for the proposition that the Plain View Doctrine only justifies the warrantless seizure of contraband found in plain view, not a warrantless search. See my comments after Horton for further elucidation.
  • For the general "Plain View" Doctrine, see Horton v. California.

 

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