Horton v. California

PETITIONER: Terry Brice Horton
RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: San Jose, California

DOCKET NO.: 88-7164
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 496 US 128 (1990)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1990
DECIDED: Jun 04, 1990
GRANTED: Oct 10, 1989

Juliana Drous - on behalf of the Petitioner
Martin S. Kaye - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

On January 13, 1985, Erwin Paul Wallaker, the treasurer of the San Jose Coin Club, returned home with the proceeds from the annual coin convention, which Terry Brice Horton attended. Upon entering his garage, two robbers accosted Wallaker; one was armed with a machine gun and the other with an electric shocking device. They threw him to the ground, shocked him, bound him, and robbed him of jewelry and cash. During this interaction, Wallaker was able to identify Horton by the sound of his voice. The three witnesses who discovered Wallaker partially corroborated his identification of Horton. They saw someone leaving the scene carrying what looked like an umbrella.

Sergeant LaRault determined there was enough evidence to search Horton’s home, and obtained a warrant to do so. His affidavit for the search warrant described both the weapons and the proceeds of the robbery, but the warrant only granted permission to look for the stolen property. While searching Horton’s house, Sergeant LaRault did not find the property, but he did find an Uzi machine gun, a .38 caliber revolver, two stun guns, and a handcuff key, along with other items linking Horton to the crime.

The evidence was admitted into evidence at trial, and Horton was found guilty. The California Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict, and the California Supreme Court denied the petitioner’s request for review.


Does the Fourth Amendment prohibit the warrantless seizure of evidence in plain sight if the discovery of such evidence was not inadvertent?

Media for Horton v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1990 in Horton v. California

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 88-7164, Terry Brice Horton v. California.

Ms. Drous, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Juliana Drous:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue before you today is may the police officers seize an object not listed on a warrant when it is in play view.

And I would start with when a seizure is made without inadvertence it is not made pursuant to a search.

Excuse me, it is not a plain-view seizure.

It is made, in fact, pursuant to a search.

So, we really don't even have a plain-view seizure here.

There is... and the facts in this case are, the police officers procured a search warrant.

When they did so, they carelessly forgot to include all the items for which they intended to seize.

When they entered the premises, they searched for the items irregardless of the fact that they were not listed in the warrant and, in fact, found the items that they were looking for, except for the items in fact listed on the warrant.

In order to find that inadvertence is not required in this situation, this Court would have to overrule Marron v. U.S. The facts there are indistinguishable from the facts here.

In that case, the police officers entered a business establishment with a warrant.

When they... this was in prohibition times.

One of the items listed on the warrant was liquor.

When they went in the closet in which they believed the liquor might be, they found ledgers and bills.

That court, seeing the issue which... as simple as it actually is... said that the ledger and bills were in fact not seized... not listed in the warrant and, therefore, not subject to seizure.

What the Attorney General of California asks this Court to do is to create a new exception to the warrant requirement.

The carelessness exception, the... Oh, my goodness, I forgot to get the warrant... particularly describing the items to be seized.

What that would do, it would nullify the particularity requirement of the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment is too important to allow that to happen.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Now, what if the officers in obtaining and seeking a search warrant lack probable cause to list some items on the search warrant and the affidavit and, therefore, they don't.

Now they go into the premises because they do list those for which they have probable cause.

They go in and they see the items.

They were aware of those items but knew they didn't have probable cause.

Are those found now in plain view?

Juliana Drous:

No, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:


Juliana Drous:

Not if the police officers intended to search.

The purpose of the warrant requirement... there would be no... police officers are required when they ask for a search warrant to particularly describe the items for which they intend to search.