Let's say I have willingly invited the police into my living room. Earlier I had been planning some highly illegal activities on my computer, located in the living room, and thus had incriminating evidence on the screen. However, my computer is currently in hibernate mode, and so nothing is showing on the screen. If anyone were to move the mouse, to wake my computer up, it would then display the evidence. I'm wondering, if the computer were to be awaken, if the evidence could be deemed to be in plain sight.

I assume that if I was the one to accidentally bump my mouse, then yes, the evidence is in plain sight. I also assume that if an officer walks over to my computer and, clearly and intentionally, moves the mouse to wake up the computer, that likely would not count as being in plain sight?

However, what if an officer claims to have accidentally bumped the mouse without intent? Would the evidence on my computer then be in plain sight? What if they ask my minor son to show him the cool new wallpaper on the computer with the intent of getting the son to wake the computer so he can view its content?

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    so to clarify: you don't have taken even the basic step to have a password on the computer or the screen had just turned off but not the screen locked yet?
    – Trish
    Jan 12, 2021 at 2:13
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    @Trish, so to clarify, your question has nothing to do with the legality of such a search, it's just a recommendation for anyone planning to do this?
    – user6726
    Jan 12, 2021 at 5:47
  • @user6726 no, it's that windows since 8.0 actually does lock the screen with the basic setups and requires the password to re-log in. changing those settings does show certain knowledge about how to do it and a disregard for the own privacy, which might alter the conclusion.
    – Trish
    Jan 12, 2021 at 8:10
  • @Trish you are correct that my current laptop does have a password on it, but for this question let's assume an older windows (or god forbid linux distro!) that doesn't mandate a password. Just waking the computer is enough to view the screen
    – dsollen
    Jan 12, 2021 at 15:55
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    @user6726 It's safe to say that if the officer deliberately bumped the mouse, the evidence on the computer screen would be inadmissible in court. SCOTUS has long refused to allow cursory inspections of items which are nonetheless in plain view. For example, speakers in plain view, but having to look at their bottoms for the serial numbers; notebooks on a desk being opened; VHS tapes in a player and pressing 'play,' have all been deemed improper. If probable cause that something is evidence of a crime can't be established without further intrusion, no matter how slight, seizure is unjustified.
    – A.fm.
    Feb 1, 2021 at 6:38

1 Answer 1


This is such a fact specific question that I doubt there's a precedent that covers it exactly. It could probably go either way.

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