Arizona v. Hicks

Arizona v. Hicks

489 U.S. 321 (1987)

Facts: A bullet was fired through the floor of the respondent’s room which caused injury to a man. The police immediately entered the respondent’s room to check if there were other victims and their search yielded three weapons and a stocking cap mask. One of the responding cops noticed an expensive looking stereo component which seemed inconsistent with the ill-maintained apartment. Suspecting that said stereo and turntable were not legally obtained, the cop record the serial number of the appliance and reported them to their police station. Note that the cop had to move the stereos in order to see the serial numbers. Upon receiving confirmation from the station that the subject stereos were taken in an armed robbery, the police officer decided to seize the equipment and file a robbery charge against the respondent. Both the state courts refused to uphold the policeman’s action as reasonable search and seizure under the plain view doctrine.


1.      Whether or not the recording of the serial number constitute a search and seizure

2.      Whether or not the search and seizure is reasonable under the plainview doctrine


1.      Mere recording of the serial number does not constitute search and seizure.  However, the act of moving the appliances in order to see the serial numbers is violative of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

2.      The search and seizure of the stereo cannot be justified under the plain view doctrine.

Majority Opinion delivered by Justice Scalia

1.      The recording did not “meaningfully interfere” with respondent’s possessory interest in either the serial numbers or the equipment, and therefore did not amount to a seizure. However, it is the moving of the equipment that produced additional invasion of the respondent’s privacy. This cannot be justified by the exigent circumstance which allowed for the police officers’ initial entry. The fact that the serial numbers did not have an intrinsic personal value is not sufficient to rectify the policeman’s mistake.

2.      The Court held that although the exception of exigent circumstance may not be applied in this case because the presence of the stereo is unrelated to the shooting incident, the plain view doctrine may be utilized. Nevertheless, the policeman’s “reasonable suspicion” that the stereo was stolen is not enough to substitute for “probable cause.” The Court declares that the same level of probable cause needed for the issuance of a search warrant forms an essential requisite for the invocation of the plain view doctrine.

3.      As for the dissenting opinions, the majority opinion responded that a cursory inspection, which only involves looking and not disturbing, is not even considered a search and consequently, a reasonable suspicion is not required.

Justice White, concurring

Justice White emphasized the immateriality of “inadvertent discovery” in plain view searches, contrary to the position of Justice O’Connor.

Justice O’Connor, with whom the Chief Justice and Justice Powell join, dissenting

Justice O’Connor is of the opinion that there must be delineation between full-blown search and cursory searches, in that the latter reasonable suspicion that the item constitutes an evidence of a crime will suffice to satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Powell, with whom the Chief Justice and Justice O’Connor join, dissenting

Justice Powell proposes that the moving of suspicious item is only a minimal intrusion of privacy. He further says that the distinction between looking and moving “trivializes the Fourth Amendment” which may cause uncertainty for conscientious police officers.

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