The Supreme Court of New Jersey Clarifies “Plain View” Seizures (Sort of): State v. Gonzales

“(P)lain view” seizures were recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971).  The doctrine is true to its name: it permits warrantless seizures of illegal contraband that is in the “plain view” of law enforcement.   This is the law in New Jersey too.  State v. Bruzzese, 94 N.J. 210 (1983).

There is common sense at work here.  If law enforcement finds evidence out in the open, it would be unduly burdensome and illogical to require the State to leave the evidence in place while it secures a warrant to support the necessary seizure.

But this exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement requires a dash of kismet and a dollop of good luck: law enforcement must be in the right place, at the right time, to discover and seize the evidence. If they are not, then they cannot.

Yet, what if such a happy fortuity is more than luck, but is also the product of some prior planning or scheming?  What if law enforcement’s actions are challenged as pre-textual?  When and how is the subjective intent of the police to be considered in evaluating the validity of a “plain view” seizure? Continue reading “The Supreme Court of New Jersey Clarifies “Plain View” Seizures (Sort of): State v. Gonzales”

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