The common perception of police searches is that an officer needs a warrant before opening up a car or home for a search. This is not always the case. A police officer may conduct a search if the officer has probable cause to do so. One way an officer could claim probable cause is through the plain view doctrine.
According to the Cornell Law School, the plain view doctrine works when an officer observes an object that could link to a crime. Such objects may include illegal items like drugs or drug paraphernalia. A discovery of an incriminating object may lead to a search and seizure of the object as evidence.
An example of the plain view doctrine
You might believe that if your property is inside your car or home, it is safe from prying eyes. However, that might not be true if you have placed your property near a glass window. An observer may be able to spot your personal property through the glass pane. Such observers may include police officers.
In a plain view scenario, an officer approaches your car and notices an object through your windshield. It may be medicine or an object that resembles drug paraphernalia. The officer, convinced that you possess evidence linking you to a crime, asserts the right to search your vehicle.
What qualifies as plain view
The plain view doctrine is not enough to justify any search. If there is a covering over the object or a container that obscures the object from view, it is not plausible for the officer to observe an incriminating nature from the object. If the supposedly incriminating object was not clearly visible, it may work to disqualify the legality of a search and cause a judge to throw out evidence seized from the search as inadmissible.