Question: Does the plain view warrant exception allow peace officers warrantless entry into a home?
Quick answer: No. Unlike the other warrant exceptions, the plain view doctrine will not justify your warrantless entry into a home.
Facts: A police officer stopped a car about 11 p.m. for a traffic violation. When he approached the driver, Adam Alihassan, he noticed a bag of marijuana by Alihassan’s foot and arrested him. Alihassan’s dog was inside the car at that time, so the officer, along with another police officer, walked Alihassan to his nearby apartment to drop off his dog. Alihassan unlocked his apartment door and opened it just enough to let his dog inside. The officer peered into the apartment, noticing a small amount of marijuana and marijuana grinder sitting on a table. So, as Alihassan began to shut the apartment door, the officer stuck his foot in the doorway, explaining that he had seen drugs inside. He and the other officer entered the apartment. They handcuffed Alihassan and performed a protective sweep, during which they discovered more drugs. The officer asked Alihassan for consent to search the rest of the apartment. He asked if he could make a phone call, and minutes later, signed a consent form allowing the officers to search. They found more drugs in the apartment. Alihassan filed a motion to suppress all of the found drugs based on the officers’ warrantless entry into the home, unjustified protective sweep, and Alihassan’s invalid consent.
Why the case is important: The court of appeals held that the evidence should be suppressed because the officers’ entry and protective sweep were unlawful, Alihassan’s consent was invalid, and the drug evidence would not have been inevitably discovered during a lawful investigation.
First, the court explained that the plain view warrant exception did not apply to these facts because, although the officer was lawfully present outside of Alihassan’s apartment and the criminality of the marijuana and grinder were apparent, he did not have a right to access the objects because he was not granted access inside. The plain view exception does not “cross the threshold” of the doorway into a person’s home. The officer’s observation of the marijuana and grinder gave him probable cause, but it did not allow for warrantless entry into the home. Plus, there were no clearly exigent circumstances that prevented the officers from getting a warrant.
The court also found that Alihassan’s consent does not prevent suppression. Officers asked for his consent after two Fourth Amendment violations. Even though Alihassan finally gave consent, not enough time had passed between the violations and the consent. Alihassan’s initial action in only opening his apartment door halfway showed that he did not consent to the officers entering his apartment. Also, the inevitable discovery rule did not prevent the evidence from being suppressed. The rule implies that officers would have eventually found the contested evidence, but it must be through a lawful investigation. The officers were not lawfully present in Alihassan’s apartment when they found the drugs because they entered without a warrant or some other warrant exception.
Keep in mind: You can’t intrude in a person’s home just because you have a plain view of something illegal. Both Ohio and federal courts have drawn a hard line on a peace officer’s warrantless entry into a home: It is presumed unreasonable unless a warrant exception applies. So, if you see something illegal in plain view, you should get a warrant for the search.
But remember, this rule doesn’t change the “exigent circumstances” rule. In this case, for example, if the officers had seen contraband in the house andpeople (who could flush the contraband down the toilet while they were getting a warrant), they may have been able to do a warrantless entry.
to read the entire opinion.