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decided: June 21, 1971.



Stewart, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J. (as to Part III), and Harlan (as to Parts I, II-D, and III), Douglas, Brennan, and Marshall, JJ., joined. Harlan, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 490. Burger, C. J., filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, post, p. 492. Black, J., filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, in a portion of Part I and in Parts II and III of which Burger, C. J., and Blackmun, J., joined, post, p. 493. White, J., filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, in which Burger, C. J., joined, post, p. 510.

Author: Stewart

[ 403 U.S. Page 445]

 MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.*fn*

We are called upon in this case to decide issues under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments arising in the context of a state criminal trial for the commission of a particularly brutal murder. As in every case, our single duty is to determine the issues presented in accord with the Constitution and the law.

Pamela Mason, a 14-year-old girl, left her home in Manchester, New Hampshire, on the evening of January 13, 1964, during a heavy snowstorm, apparently in response to a man's telephone call for a babysitter. Eight days later, after a thaw, her body was found by the side of a major north-south highway several miles away. She had been murdered. The event created great alarm in the area, and the police immediately began a massive investigation.

On January 28, having learned from a neighbor that the petitioner, Edward Coolidge, had been away from home on the evening of the girl's disappearance, the police went to his house to question him. They asked

[ 403 U.S. Page 446]

     him, among other things, if he owned any guns, and he produced three, two shotguns and a rifle. They also asked whether he would take a lie-detector test concerning his account of his activities on the night of the disappearance. He agreed to do so on the following Sunday, his day off. The police later described his attitude on the occasion of this visit as fully "cooperative." His wife was in the house throughout the interview.

On the following Sunday, a policeman called Coolidge early in the morning and asked him to come down to the police station for the trip to Concord, New Hampshire, where the lie-detector test was to be administered. That evening, two plainclothes policemen arrived at the Coolidge house, where Mrs. Coolidge was waiting with her mother-in-law for her husband's return. These two policemen were not the two who had visited the house earlier in the week, and they apparently did not know that Coolidge had displayed three guns for inspection during the earlier visit. The plainclothesmen told Mrs. Coolidge that her husband was in "serious trouble" and probably would not be home that night. They asked Coolidge's mother to leave, and proceeded to question Mrs. Coolidge. During the course of the interview they obtained from her four guns belonging to Coolidge, and some clothes that Mrs. Coolidge thought her husband might have been wearing on the evening of Pamela Mason's disappearance.

Coolidge was held in jail on an unrelated charge that night, but he was released the next day.*fn1 During the ensuing two and a half weeks, the State accumulated a quantity of evidence to support the theory that it was he who had killed Pamela Mason. On February 19, the results of the investigation were presented at a meeting between the police officers working on the case and the

[ 403 U.S. Page 447]

     State Attorney General, who had personally taken charge of all police activities relating to the murder, and was later to serve as chief prosecutor at the trial. At this meeting, it was decided that there was enough evidence to justify the arrest of Coolidge on the murder charge and a search of his house and two cars. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Manchester police chief made formal application, under oath, for the arrest and search warrants. The complaint supporting the warrant for a search of Coolidge's Pontiac automobile, the only warrant that concerns us here, stated that the affiant "has probable cause to suspect and believe, and does suspect and believe, and herewith offers satisfactory evidence, that there are certain objects and things used in the Commission of said offense, now kept, and concealed in or upon a certain vehicle, to wit: 1951 Pontiac two-door sedan . . . ." The warrants were then signed and issued by the Attorney General himself, acting as a justice of the peace. Under New Hampshire law in force at that time, all justices of the peace were authorized to issue search warrants. N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 595:1 (repealed 1969).

The police arrested Coolidge in his house on the day the warrant issued. Mrs. Coolidge asked whether she might remain in the house with her small child, but was told that she must stay elsewhere, apparently in part because the police believed that she would be harassed by reporters if she were accessible to them. When she asked whether she might take her car, she was told that both cars had been "impounded," and that the police would provide transportation for her. Some time later, the police called a towing company, and about two and a half hours after Coolidge had been taken into custody the cars were towed to the police station. It appears that at the time of the arrest the cars were parked in the Coolidge driveway, and that although dark had fallen

[ 403 U.S. Page 448]

     they were plainly visible both from the street and from inside the house where Coolidge was actually arrested. The 1951 Pontiac was searched and vacuumed on February 21, two days after it was seized, again a year later, in January 1965, and a third time in April 1965.

At Coolidge's subsequent jury trial on the charge of murder, vacuum sweepings, including particles of gun powder, taken from the Pontiac were introduced in evidence against him, as part of an attempt by the State to show by microscopic analysis that it was highly probable that Pamela Mason had been in Coolidge's car.*fn2 Also introduced in evidence was one of the guns taken by the police on their Sunday evening visit to the Coolidge house -- a .22-caliber Mossberg rifle, which the prosecution claimed was the murder weapon. Conflicting ballistics testimony was offered on the question whether the bullets found in Pamela Mason's body had been fired from this rifle. Finally, the prosecution introduced vacuum sweepings of the clothes taken from the Coolidge house that same Sunday evening, and attempted to show through microscopic analysis that there was a high probability that the clothes had been in contact with Pamela Mason's body. Pretrial motions to suppress all this evidence were referred by the trial judge to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which ruled the evidence admissible. 106 N. H. 186, 208 A. 2d 322. The jury found Coolidge guilty and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of conviction, 109 N. H. 403, 260 A. 2d 547, and we granted certiorari to consider the constitutional questions raised by the admission of this evidence against Coolidge at his trial. 399 U.S. 926.

[ 403 U.S. Page 449]


The petitioner's first claim is that the warrant authorizing the seizure and subsequent search of his 1951 Pontiac automobile was invalid because not issued by a "neutral and detached magistrate." Since we agree with the petitioner that the warrant was invalid for this reason, we need not consider his further argument that the allegations under oath supporting the issuance of the warrant were so conclusory as to violate relevant constitutional standards. Cf. Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480; Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108.

The classic statement of the policy underlying the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment is that of Mr. Justice Jackson, writing for the Court in Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13-14:

"The point of the Fourth Amendment, which often is not grasped by zealous officers, is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence. Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime. Any assumption that evidence sufficient to support a magistrate's disinterested determination to issue a search warrant will justify the officers in making a search without a warrant would reduce the Amendment to a nullity and leave the people's homes secure only in the discretion of police officers. . . . When the right of privacy must reasonably yield to the right of search is, as a rule, to be decided by a judicial officer, not by a policeman or government enforcement agent."

Cf. United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452, 464; Giordenello v. United States, supra, at 486. Wong Sun v.

[ 403 U.S. Page 450]

     it is enough to cite Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, 33, decided in 1925:

"Belief, however well founded, that an article sought is concealed in a dwelling house furnishes no justification for a search of that place without a warrant. And such searches are held unlawful notwithstanding facts unquestionably showing probable cause."

See also Jones v. United States, 357 U.S. 493, 497-498; Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 392. ("The rights . . . against unlawful search and seizure are to be protected even if the same result might have been achieved in a lawful way.")

But the New Hampshire Supreme Court, in upholding the conviction, relied upon the theory that even if the warrant procedure here in issue would clearly violate the standards imposed on the Federal Government by the Fourth Amendment, it is not forbidden the States under the Fourteenth. This position was premised on a passage from the opinion of this Court in Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 31:

"Preliminary to our examination of the search and seizures involved here, it might be helpful for us to indicate what was not decided in Mapp [v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643]. First, it must be recognized that the 'principles governing the admissibility of evidence in federal criminal trials have not been restricted . . . to those derived solely from the Constitution. In the exercise of its supervisory authority over the administration of criminal justice in the federal courts . . . this Court has . . . formulated rules of evidence to be applied in federal criminal prosecutions.' McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 341 . . . Mapp, however, established no assumption by this Court of supervisory authority over state courts . . . and, consequently, it implied no total

[ 403 U.S. Page 452]

     obliteration of state laws relating to arrests and searches in favor of federal law. Mapp sounded no death knell for our federalism; rather, it echoed the sentiment of Elkins v. United States, supra, at 221, that 'a healthy federalism depends upon the avoidance of needless conflict between state and federal courts' by itself urging that 'federal-state cooperation in the solution of crime under constitutional standards will be promoted, if only by recognition of their now mutual obligation to respect the same fundamental criteria in their approaches.' 367 U.S., at 658." (Emphasis in Ker.)

It is urged that the New Hampshire statutes which at the time of the searches here involved permitted a law enforcement officer himself to issue a warrant was one of those "workable rules governing arrests, searches and seizures to meet 'the practical demands of effective criminal investigation and law enforcement' in the States," id., at 34, authorized by Ker.

That such a procedure was indeed workable from the point of view of the police is evident from testimony at the trial in this case:

"The Court: You mean that another police officer issues these [search warrants]?

"The Witness: Yes. Captain Couture and Captain Shea and Captain Loveren are J. P.'s.

"The Court: Well, let me ask you, Chief, your answer is to the effect that you never go out of the department for the Justice of the Peace?

"The Witness: It hasn't been our -- policy to go out of the department.

"Q. Right. Your policy and experience, is to have a fellow police officer take the warrant in the capacity of Justice of the Peace?

"A. That has been our practice."

[ 403 U.S. Page 453]

     But it is too plain for extensive discussion that this now abandoned New Hampshire method of issuing "search warrants" violated a fundamental premise of both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments -- a premise fully developed and articulated long before this Court's decisions in Ker v. California, supra, and Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643. As Mr. Justice Frankfurter put it in Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 27-28:

"The security of one's privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police -- which is at the core of the Fourth Amendment -- is basic to a free society. It is therefore implicit in 'the concept of ordered liberty' and as such enforceable against the States through the Due Process Clause. The knock at the door, whether by day or by night, as a prelude to a search, without authority of law but solely on the authority of the police, did not need the commentary of recent history to be condemned . . . ."

We find no escape from the conclusion that the seizure and search of the Pontiac automobile cannot constitutionally rest upon the warrant issued by the state official who was the chief investigator and prosecutor in this case. Since he was not the neutral and detached magistrate required by the Constitution, the search stands on no firmer ground than if there had been no warrant at all. If the seizure and search are to be justified, they must, therefore, be justified on some other theory.


The State proposes three distinct theories to bring the facts of this case within one or another of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. In considering them, we must not lose sight of the Fourth Amendment's fundamental guarantee. Mr. Justice Bradley's admonition in his opinion for the Court almost a century ago in Boyd

[ 403 U.S. Page 454]

     v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 635, is worth repeating here:

"It may be that it is the obnoxious thing in its mildest and least repulsive form; but illegitimate and unconstitutional practices get their first footing in that way, namely, by silent approaches and slight deviations from legal modes of procedure. This can only be obviated by adhering to the rule that constitutional provisions for the security of person and property should be liberally construed. A close and literal construction deprives them of half their efficacy, and leads to gradual depreciation of the right, as if it consisted more in sound than in substance. It is the duty of courts to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen, and against any stealthy encroachments thereon."*fn4

Thus the most basic constitutional rule in this area is that "searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se

[ 403 U.S. Page 455]

     unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment -- subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions."*fn5 The exceptions are "jealously and carefully drawn,"*fn6 and there must be "a showing by those who seek exemption . . . that the exigencies of the situation made that course imperative."*fn7 "The burden is on those seeking the exemption to show the need for it."*fn8 In times of unrest, whether caused by crime or racial conflict or fear of internal subversion, this basic law and the values that it represents may appear unrealistic or "extravagant" to some. But the values were those of the authors of our fundamental constitutional concepts. In times not altogether unlike our own they won -- by legal and constitutional means in England,*fn9 and by revolution on this continent -- a right of personal security against arbitrary intrusions by official power. If times have changed, reducing everyman's scope to do as he pleases in an urban and industrial world, the changes have made the values served by the Fourth Amendment more, not less, important.*fn10


The State's first theory is that the seizure on February 19 and subsequent search of Coolidge's Pontiac were "incident" to a valid arrest. We assume that the arrest of Coolidge inside his house was valid, so that the first condition of a warrantless "search incident" is met. Whiteley v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560, 567 n. 11. And since the events in issue took place in 1964, we assess the State's argument

[ 403 U.S. Page 456]

     in terms of the law as it existed before Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, which substantially restricted the "search incident" exception to the warrant requirement, but did so only prospectively. Williams v. United States, 401 U.S. 646. But even under pre-Chimel law, the State's position is untenable.

The leading case in the area before Chimel was United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, which was taken to stand "for the proposition, inter alia, that a warrantless search 'incident to a lawful arrest' may generally extend to the area that is considered to be in the 'possession' or under the 'control' of the person arrested." Chimel, supra, at 760. In this case, Coolidge was arrested inside his house; his car was outside in the driveway. The car was not touched until Coolidge had been removed from the scene. It was then seized and taken to the station, but it was not actually searched until two days later.

First, it is doubtful whether the police could have carried out a contemporaneous search of the car under Rabinowitz standards. For this Court has repeatedly held that, even under Rabinowitz, "[a] search may be incident to an arrest '"only if it is substantially contemporaneous with the arrest and is confined to the immediate vicinity of the arrest. . . ."'" Vale v. Louisiana, 399 U.S. 30, 33, quoting from Shipley v. California, 395 U.S. 818, 819, quoting from Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 486. (Emphasis in Shipley.) Cf. Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S., at 30-31; James v. Louisiana, 382 U.S. 36. These cases make it clear beyond any question that a lawful pre-Chimel arrest of a suspect outside his house could never by itself justify a warrantless search inside the house. There is nothing in search-incident doctrine (as opposed to the special rules for automobiles and evidence in "plain view," to be considered below) that suggests

[ 403 U.S. Page 457]

     a different result where the arrest is made inside the house and the search outside and at some distance away.*fn11

Even assuming, arguendo, that the police might have searched the Pontiac in the driveway when they arrested Coolidge in the house, Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364, makes plain that they could not legally seize the car, remove it, and search it at their leisure without a warrant. In circumstances virtually identical to those here, MR. JUSTICE BLACK's opinion for a unanimous Court held that "once an accused is under arrest and in custody, then a search [of his car] made at another place, without a warrant, is simply not incident to the arrest." Id., at 367. Dyke v. Taylor Implement Mfg. Co., 391 U.S. 216. Cf. Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 47. Search-incident doctrine, in short, has no applicability to this case.*fn12

[ 403 U.S. Page 458]


The second theory put forward by the State to justify a warrantless seizure and search of the Pontiac car is that under Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, the police may make a warrantless search of an automobile whenever they have probable cause to do so, and, under our decision last Term in Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, whenever the police may make a legal contemporaneous search under Carroll, they may also seize the car, take it to the police station, and search it there. But even granting that the police had probable cause to search the car, the application of the Carroll case to these facts would extend it far beyond its original rationale.

Carroll did indeed hold that "contraband goods concealed and illegally transported in an automobile or other vehicle may be searched for without a warrant,"*fn13 provided that "the seizing officer shall have reasonable or probable cause for believing that the automobile which he stops and seizes has contraband liquor therein which is being illegally transported."*fn14 Such searches had been explicitly authorized by Congress, and, as we have pointed out elsewhere,*fn15 in the conditions of the time "an automobile . . . was an almost indispensable instrumentality in large-scale violation of the National Prohibition Act, and the car itself therefore was treated somewhat as an offender and became contraband." In two later cases,*fn16 each involving an occupied automobile stopped on the open highway and searched for contraband

[ 403 U.S. Page 459]

     liquor, the Court followed and reaffirmed Carroll.*fn17 And last Term in Chambers, supra, we did so again.

The underlying rationale of Carroll and of all the cases that have followed it is that there is

"a necessary difference between a search of a store, dwelling house or other structure in respect of which a proper official warrant readily may be obtained, and a search of a ship, motor boat, wagon or automobile,

[ 403 U.S. Page 460]

     for contraband goods, where it is not practicable to secure a warrant because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought." 267 U.S., at 153. (Emphasis supplied.)

As we said in Chambers, supra, at 51, "exigent circumstances" justify the warrantless search of "an automobile stopped on the highway," where there is probable cause, because the car is "movable, the occupants are alerted, and the car's contents may never be found again if a warrant must be obtained." "The opportunity to search is fleeting . . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

In this case, the police had known for some time of the probable role of the Pontiac car in the crime. Coolidge was aware that he was a suspect in the Mason murder, but he had been extremely cooperative throughout the investigation, and there was no indication that he meant to flee. He had already had ample opportunity to destroy any evidence he thought incriminating. There is no suggestion that, on the night in question, the car was being used for any illegal purpose, and it was regularly parked in the driveway of his house. The opportunity for search was thus hardly "fleeting." The objects that the police are assumed to have had probable cause to search for in the car were neither stolen nor contraband nor dangerous.

When the police arrived at the Coolidge house to arrest him, two officers were sent to guard the back door while the main party approached from the front. Coolidge was arrested inside the house, without resistance of any kind on his part, after he had voluntarily admitted the officers at both front and back doors. There was no way in which he could conceivably have gained access to the automobile after the police arrived on his property. When Coolidge had been taken away, the police informed Mrs. Coolidge, the only other adult occupant of the

[ 403 U.S. Page 461]

     house, that she and her baby had to spend the night elsewhere and that she could not use either of the Coolidge cars. Two police officers then drove her in a police car to the house of a relative in another town, and they stayed with her there until around midnight, long after the police had had the Pontiac towed to the station house. The Coolidge premises were guarded throughout the night by two policemen.*fn18

The word "automobile" is not a talisman in whose presence the Fourth Amendment fades away and disappears.

[ 403 U.S. Page 462]

     And surely there is nothing in this case to invoke the meaning and purpose of the rule of Carroll v. United States -- no alerted criminal bent on flight, no fleeting opportunity on an open highway after a hazardous chase, no contraband or stolen goods or weapons, no confederates waiting to move the evidence, not even the inconvenience of a special police detail to guard the immobilized automobile. In short, by no possible stretch of the legal imagination can this be made into a case where "it is not practicable to secure a warrant," Carroll, supra, at 153, and the "automobile exception," despite its label, is simply irrelevant.*fn19

[ 403 U.S. Page 463]

     Since Carroll would not have justified a warrantless search of the Pontiac at the time Coolidge was arrested, the later search at the station house was plainly illegal, at least so far as the automobile exception is concerned. Chambers, supra, is of no help to the State, since that case held only that, where the police may stop and search an automobile under Carroll, they may also seize it and search it later at the police station.*fn20 Rather, this case is controlled by Dyke v. Taylor Implement Mfg. Co., supra. There the police lacked probable cause to seize or search the defendant's automobile at the time of his

[ 403 U.S. Page 464]

     arrest, and this was enough by itself to condemn the subsequent search at the station house. Here there was probable cause, but no exigent circumstances justified the police in proceeding without a warrant. As in Dyke, the later search at the station house was therefore illegal.*fn21


The State's third theory in support of the warrantless seizure and search of the Pontiac car is that the car itself was an "instrumentality of the crime," and as such might be seized by the police on Coolidge's property because it was in plain view. Supposing the seizure to be thus lawful, the case of Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58, is said to support a subsequent warrantless search at the station house, with or without probable cause. Of course, the distinction between an "instrumentality of crime" and "mere evidence" was done away with by Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, and we may assume that the police had probable cause to seize the automobile.*fn22 But, for the reasons that follow, we hold that the "plain view" exception to the warrant requirement is inapplicable to this case. Since the seizure was therefore

[ 403 U.S. Page 465]

     illegal, it is unnecessary to consider the applicability of Cooper, supra, to the subsequent search.*fn23

It is well established that under certain circumstances the police may seize evidence in plain view without a warrant. But it is important to keep in mind that, in the vast majority of cases, any evidence seized by the police will be in plain view, at least at the moment of seizure. The problem with the "plain view" doctrine has been to identify the circumstances in which plain view has legal significance rather than being simply the normal concomitant of any search, legal or illegal.

An example of the applicability of the "plain view" doctrine is the situation in which the police have a warrant to search a given area for specified objects, and in the course of the search come across some other article of incriminating character. Cf. Go-Bart Importing Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 344, 358; United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452, 465; Steele v. United States, 267 U.S. 498; Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 571 (STEWART, J., concurring in result). Where the initial intrusion that brings the police within plain view of such an article is supported, not by a warrant, but by one of the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement, the seizure is also legitimate. Thus the police may inadvertently come across evidence while in "hot pursuit" of a fleeing suspect. Warden v. Hayden, supra ; cf. Hester v. United States, 265 U.S. 57. And an object that comes into view during a search incident to arrest that is appropriately limited in scope under existing law may be seized without a warrant.*fn24 Chimel v. California, 395 U.S., at 762-763.

[ 403 U.S. Page 466]

     Finally, the "plain view" doctrine has been applied where a police officer is not searching for evidence against the accused, but nonetheless inadvertently comes across an incriminating object. Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234; Frazier v. Cupp, 394 U.S. 731; Ker v. California, 374 U.S., at 43. Cf. Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206.

What the "plain view" cases have in common is that the police officer in each of them had a prior justification for an intrusion in the course of which he came inadvertently across a piece of evidence incriminating the accused. The doctrine serves to supplement the prior justification -- whether it be a warrant for another object, hot pursuit, search incident to lawful arrest, or some other legitimate reason for being present unconnected with a search directed against the accused -- and permits the warrantless seizure. Of course, the extension of the original justification is legitimate only where it is immediately apparent to the police that they have evidence before them; the "plain view" doctrine may not be used to extend a general exploratory search from one object to another until something incriminating at last emerges.

[ 403 U.S. Page 467]

     Cf. Stanley v. Georgia, supra, at 571-572 (STEWART, J., concurring in result).

The rationale for the "plain view" exception is evident if we keep in mind the two distinct constitutional protections served by the warrant requirement. First, the magistrate's scrutiny is intended to eliminate altogether searches not based on probable cause. The premise here is that any intrusion in the way of search or seizure is an evil, so that no intrusion at all is justified without a careful prior determination of necessity. See, e. g., McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451; Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294; Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347; Chimel v. California, 395 U.S., at 761-762. The second, distinct objective is that those searches deemed necessary should be as limited as possible. Here, the specific evil is the "general warrant" abhorred by the colonists, and the problem is not that of intrusion per se, but of a general, exploratory rummaging in a person's belongings. See, e. g., Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S., at 624-630; Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, 195-196; Stanford v. Texas, 379 U.S. 476. The warrant accomplishes this second objective by requiring a "particular description" of the things to be seized.

The "plain view" doctrine is not in conflict with the first objective because plain view does not occur until a search is in progress. In each case, this initial intrusion is justified by a warrant or by an exception such as "hot pursuit" or search incident to a lawful arrest, or by an extraneous valid reason for the officer's presence. And, given the initial intrusion, the seizure of an object in plain view is consistent with the second objective, since it does not convert the search into a general or exploratory one. As against the minor peril to Fourth Amendment protections, there is a major gain in effective law enforcement. Where, once an otherwise lawful search is in progress, the police inadvertently come upon

[ 403 U.S. Page 468]

     a piece of evidence, it would often be a needless inconvenience, and sometimes dangerous -- to the evidence or to the police themselves -- to require them to ignore it until they have obtained a warrant particularly describing it.

The limits on the doctrine are implicit in the statement of its rationale. The first of these is that plain view alone is never enough to justify the warrantless seizure of evidence. This is simply a corollary of the familiar principle discussed above, that no amount of probable cause can justify a warrantless search or seizure absent "exigent circumstances." Incontrovertible testimony of the senses that an incriminating object is on premises belonging to a criminal suspect may establish the fullest possible measure of probable cause. But even where the object is contraband, this Court has repeatedly stated and enforced the basic rule that the police may not enter and make a warrantless seizure. Taylor v. United States, 286 U.S. 1; Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10; McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451; Jones v. United States, 357 U.S. 493, 497-498; Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610; Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699.*fn25

[ 403 U.S. Page 469]

     The second limitation is that the discovery of evidence in plain view must be inadvertent.*fn26 The rationale of the exception to the warrant requirement, as just stated,

[ 403 U.S. Page 470]

     is that a plain-view seizure will not turn an initially valid (and therefore limited) search into a "general" one, while the inconvenience of procuring a warrant to cover an inadvertent discovery is great. But where the discovery is anticipated, where the police know in advance the location of the evidence and intend to seize it, the situation is altogether different. The requirement of a warrant to seize imposes no inconvenience whatever, or at least none which is constitutionally cognizable in a legal system that regards warrantless searches as " per se

[ 403 U.S. Page 471]

     unreasonable" in the absence of ...

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