A bullet was fired through the floor of Hicks’ apartment, injuring a man in the apartment below. Police officers arrived and entered Hicks’ apartment to search for the shooter, victims, and weapons. The officers found and seized three weapons, including a sawed-off rifle.
While in Hicks’ apartment, an officer noticed two sets of expensive stereo components, “which seemed out of place in the squalid and otherwise ill-appointed apartment.” Suspecting that they were stolen, the officer read and recorded their serial numbers, moving some of the components, including a turntable, in order to do so. The officer contacted his headquarters with this information and was told that the turntable had been taken in an armed robbery. The officer immediately seized the turntable. It was later determined that some of the other serial numbers matched those on other stereo equipment taken in the same armed robbery. Officers obtained a warrant and seized those items as well.
Whether the evidence seized was obtained under the plain view doctrine?
No. The evidence could not be seized under the plain view doctrine because the evidence was not immediately apparent to be evidence of a crime at the time of the seizure.
The officer’s moving of the stereo components constituted a “seizure” separate from the search for the shooter, victims, and weapons that were the lawful objectives of his entry into the apartment. The state conceded that the officer did not have probable cause, but only reasonable suspicion to move the stereo components. Absent special operational necessity, any seizure that is unrelated to the original exigency that justified the officer’s warrantless entry must be supported by probable cause. As the officer did not have probable cause at the time he seized the stereo components, the “plain view” doctrine could not apply.
480 U.S. 321, 107 S. Ct. 1149 (1987)