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Open Fields and Plain View Doctrines Essay

Officers Trent Nelson and Lance Mahoney were patrolling in Mill Ave. While patrolling they witnessed a man running while being chased by a woman. It was found out that the man forcibly took the bag of the woman. The two officers chased the man but they lost trace of him. However, the man dropped the purse. While in the act of chasing, Officer Nelson heard a fight and he located it. From a brick- walled backyard, he saw two teenagers fighting. He entered through the open gate and pacified the two. He also noticed baggies in the patio table few yards away.

He called the parents of the boys and they went in the patio table. He noticed it to be drugs and eventually arrested the woman who was explaining about the baggies. On the other hand, Officer Mahoney pursued on the dropped purse. As he retrieved the stolen purse, he noticed marijuana cigarettes, among others, spilled from the purse. He then arrested the woman and took the contents of the purse as evidence against the woman. In the general practice, police officers are mandated to obtain a valid search warrant before they can search for items or goods in a place of the suspect.

Absence of a search warrant would make the evidences obtained inadmissible when presented in court. The consequence would be wastage in effort and losing the case. Thus, a search warrant is very essential. However, there are two cases wherein a search warrant is not needed. These are the doctrines of plain view and open fields. In the present case, the evidences, marijuana and drugs were legally obtained from the crime scene. The doctrine of plain view is applicable when Officer Mahoney took the marijuana.

Meanwhile, a plain view doctrine is an “exception to the warrant requirement which allows a police officer seize items which they observe and immediately recognize as evidence or contraband while they are lawfully present in an area protected by the 14th amendment” (PoliceLink. com, 2008). There are three elements before police officer can claim it as an exemption under the plain view doctrine. First, it is required that the officer must lawfully present in the place protected by the 14th Amendment (PoliceLink. com, 2008).

Second, the items must be out in plain view (PoliceLink. com, 2008). Third, the officer must immediately recognize the item as evidence or contraband without making a further intrusion (PoliceLink. com, 2008). In the present case, Officer Mahoney was lawfully in a place where the marijuana was seized. This is so because they were in legal discharge of their authority as police officers in chasing criminals. The second element is also present as the marijuana was spilled from the purse and is in the plain view of the officer.

The woman cannot further state that the marijuana was seized from the purse as the item was found outside the purse together with her lipstick, compact, lighter, etc. Likewise, the last element is present because Officer Mahoney immediately recognized the item as marijuana in which possession of such is punishable by law. Thus, the marijuana can be used as evidence against the owner of the purse even it was taken without a search warrant. In the case where Officer Nelson seized the drugs, the doctrine of open fields applies.

Doctrine of Open Fields is another exemption from the general requirement of search warrant, probable cause, or even legal justification (Ferdico, 2004, p. 477). In this doctrine, the police officer was in the place because of a lawful discharge of his duty as peace officer. While in the place, Officer Nelson saw baggies which he immediately doubted to be an illegal drug. This would fall under the doctrine of open fields even if the woman would contend that the police officer trespassed.

In the doctrine of open fields, the trespassing cannot render the evidence inadmissible as the Supreme Court concluded in Oliver v. United States (466 U. S. 170). In the said case, the Supreme Court convicted the man who was manufacturing an illegal substance based on the discovered plantation of marijuana located miles away from his home (466 U. S. 170). The court held that even the property was private, the man does not have legitimate expectation of privacy and trespassing is not even enough to invalidate the evidences (466 U.

S. 170). Thus, the woman can be held liable for illegal possession of drugs based on the seized evidences under the “open fields doctrine”. In the two instances, the more applicable is the open view doctrine. This is because the three elements are present in both instances. In the case of the seizure of marijuana, the place being public does not affect the doctrine while in seizure of illegal drugs; the police officer was already in a place for legal reason, which is to pacify the fighting boys.

The second element is also satisfied because the items were in plain view. The marijuana was outside the purse which had been spilled out when the purse was dropped. The illegal drug was also in plain view because the officer noticed it when he was a few steps away from the table when the baggies were placed. With regard to third element, both police officers immediately recognized the items as marijuana and illegal drug even without further intrusion of the place. Thus, the applicable doctrine is the plain view.


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