Typically, the police in Texas need a warrant to conduct searches, seizures of property, or arrest individuals. In the absence of a judicial warrant, the police can still conduct warrantless search and seizure by applying exceptions such as the “plain sight” law.
Note: Do not confuse the plain view law with the “plain smell” law.
The plain sight law – also commonly known as the plain view doctrine – is an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. The doctrine allows police officers to lawfully seize evidence of criminal activity and contraband that is in plain view during a lawful observation.
However, defendants may be able to fight against criminal charges based on evidence that was seized in plain sight. Consult with our Austin criminal defense lawyers at Granger and Mueller PC to determine the most applicable defense strategy in your case.
What Does the Plain Sight Law Mean?
In Texas, law enforcement must follow a specific protocol before they can search your motor vehicle. Following the protocol, which is governed by the U.S. Constitution as well as state and federal laws, is an essential part of any criminal investigation to ensure that any evidence collected by law enforcement will be admissible in court.
Police officers in Texas must first establish probable cause before they can stop and search your vehicle for alcohol, narcotics, or other types of contraband or evidence. For example, an officer’s observation of the driver’s slurred speech, suspicious activity, erratic driving, or efforts to flee can provide probable cause to search a vehicle.
Law enforcement in Texas can conduct an investigative stop when there is a reasonable suspicion regarding a specific vehicle. If the officer has a reasonable belief that contraband or criminal activity may be present inside the vehicle, they can conduct a search without a warrant.
When is the Plain View Doctrine Applicable in Texas?
The plain sight doctrine is applicable when plain view evidence is defined as:
- A suspicious or illegal material (contraband, narcotics, alcohol, or others) that can be easily seen by the police officer during or before a search;
- An illegal or suspicious material spotted by the officer by moving around the vehicle or looking through car windows with a flashlight; and
- Any suspicious or illegal materials in plain sight when the officer arrives at the scene of an accident.
Seeing the evidence in plain view might also be grounds to detain the occupants and conduct a more thorough search to find other suspicious or illegal materials (e.g., if the officer finds a prohibited weapon inside the vehicle).
How to Challenge Evidence Seized in Plain Sight
There might be several available defense tactics to challenge evidence and fight criminal charges against you if evidence was seized in plain sight. In the past, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the state’s argument based on the plain sight law. In its ruling, the court rejected the argument that a police officer did not need a search warrant because unrestrained dogs were visible from the street.
A common tactic used by criminal defense lawyers is to argue that the seized contraband or another type of evidence was not in plain view or that the officer tampered with the evidence. A knowledgeable defense lawyer may also be able to prove that the officer had no probable cause to stop the vehicle. In the absence of reasonable suspicion to stop a car and conduct a search, any evidence discovered in the process of searching the vehicle would be deemed inadmissible in court.
Talk to our Austin criminal defense lawyers to receive an honest evaluation of your case and the charges against you. Let us provide you with a defense strategy to challenge evidence seized in plain sight. Contact Granger and Mueller PC, a reliable law firm with a strong presence in Travis County since 1993, to get a consultation. Call at 512-474-9999 to schedule a free case review.