Plain View Doctrine Law and Legal Definition

The plain view doctrine is a concept in criminal law that allows a law enforcement officer to make a search and seizure without obtaining a search warrant if evidence of criminal activity or the product of a crime can be seen without entry or search.

Some jurisdictions recognize a "plain-smell" exception to the requirement that law-enforcement officers obtain a warrant before conducting a search. In a case involving a police dog, one court has held that, just as evidence in plain view of officers may be searched without warrant, evidence in plain smell may be detected without warrant. However, another court has held that odor alone is not sufficient to establish probable cause to search, but is one factor to consider in the totality of circumstances.


  1. Law enforcement authority to seize.
  2. Law enforcement official must be in a place he/she has a right to be in.
  3. Discovery of the evidence must be inadvertent.
  4. It must be immediately apparent that what the official has discovered is evidence.