Arizona v. Hicks, 480 U.S. 321 (1987)

In Hicks, the Supreme Court announced that probable cause is required to justify the search or seizure of items discovered in ‘‘plain view’’ during an unrelated search. Police entered an apartment after shots were fired through its floor, injuring a man in the apartment below. While they were searching for the shooter, weapons, and other victims, an officer noticed several pieces of expensive stereo equipment that he suspected were stolen. He read and recorded the serial numbers of all the items, moving at least one of them—a turntable—to do so. The equipment was identified by these numbers as having been stolen in an armed robbery, for which the respondent Hicks was indicted.

The state trial court and the Arizona Court of Appeals granted the respondent’s motion to suppress, reasoning that the officer’s obtaining the serial numbers exceeded the scope of the exigency that justified the search following the shooting. After the Arizona Supreme Court denied review, the Supreme Court granted the state’s petition for certiorari.

By a vote of six to three, the Court held that the evidence should be suppressed because, although the recording of the serial numbers was not a ‘‘seizure,’’ the moving of the turntable constituted a separate search, unrelated to the exigency justifying the officers’ entry. To be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, that separate, warrantless search required probable cause. The majority declined to adopt the dissent’s suggestion that a lesser ‘‘cursory search’’ could be justified in connection with a plain-view inspection, holding instead that ‘‘a search is a search.’’

JULIE A. BAKER

References and Further Reading

  • Milstein, Lee C., Note, Fortress of Solitude or Law of Malevolence? Rethinking the Desirability of Bright-Line Protection of the Home, N.Y.U.L. Rev. 78 (2003): 1789. 
  • Sundby, Scott C., A Return to Fourth Amendment Basics: Undoing the Mischief of Camara and Terry, Minn. L. Rev. 72 (1988): 383. 
  • Wallin, Howard E., Plain View Revisited, Pace L. Rev. 22 (2002): 307. 

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971) 
  • Illinois v. Andreas, 463 U.S. 765 (1983) 
  • Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978) 
  • Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980) 
  • Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730 (1983) 

See also Plain View; Probable Cause; Scalia, Antonin; Search (General Definition); Seizures; Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); Warrantless Searches

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