Plain View Doctrine Under New Jersey Law

Bergen County NJ Illegal Search Defense Lawyers

Often times police officers will arrive on the scene and during their investigation will come upon other incriminating evidence which is not related to their initial investigation. Once this evidence is obtained, the police will try and use this evidence as the basis to either enhance the already existing charges or to tack on other criminal charges against you.  However, before this newly discovered evidence can be used to either enhance your already pending charges or to add additional charges, the police must follow strict procedures. Otherwise, at a suppression hearing the evidence would be determined inadmissible (i.e. cannot be used against you at trial) and as a result the charges will often be dismissed.

Under the New Jersey Constitution, evidence discovered based on a warrant-less search may be legally admissible against a defendant under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement.  The admissibility of the evidence discovered during a warrant-less motor vehicle search will almost certainly be subject a plain view doctrine analysis. Another possible scenario where a plain view doctrine analysis will be required is during a motor vehicle stop, where the police officer immediately notices a prohibited weapon, drugs, contraband or evidence of crime. Whatever the scenario is, a full understanding of the plain view doctrine could be the key component to gaining a possible dismissal of the charges, based on insufficient evidence.

The plain view doctrine has evolved over time and the New Jersey Supreme Court has settled on three mandatory requirements to occur before the plain view doctrine can be invoked;

        • At the time of the viewing of the evidence, the officer was in a location where he or she had a legal right to be;
        • The officer discovered the evidence inadvertently, meaning that he or she did not know in advance where the evidence was located and did not intend beforehand to seize it; and
        • There was probable cause to associate the items seen in plain view with evidence of criminal activity.

The key analysis in the plain view doctrine is going to be the inadvertence of the officer or officers during their discovery.  Two key questions to consider when deciding whether the discovery was inadvertent or not is:

        •  First, did the officer(s) know in advance where the seized evidence was located?
        • Secondly, did the officer(s) intended prior to discovery, to seize the evidence?

If the police were aware in advance to the location of the seized evidence and the police had the intention of discovering the seized evidence, then the seized evidence would not be considered inadvertent and invalid under the Plain View Doctrine (i.e. inadmissible). However, if the police new in advance where the seized evidence was located but they did not intend, prior to the discovery, to seize the evidence; then the evidence would be considered inadvertent, thus admissible under the plain view doctrine. The admissibility of evidence discovered during a search plays a significant role in the charges filed and the likely hood of conviction.  At first glance, this appears to be a straight forward doctrine, however, this is a very fact sensitive inquiry and it requires an in-depth analysis, by a well experienced attorney.

The Law Offices of Marshall, Bonus, Proetta & Oliverhas been defending individuals charged with a crime like carjacking, assault, arson, theft of movable property or possession of prescription legend drugs for over fifteen years. We have the experience and skill set necessary to protect your rights. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact any one of our Bergen County locations at 1-800-682-4037 and speak to one of our experienced attorneys who can help guide you through the complicated plain view doctrine.