In Wooden v United States:

Wooden was sitting at home one evening when he heard a knock at his door. He answered to find an unknown man, who asked to speak with Wooden’s wife. Wooden invited the stranger inside while he went to get her. The stranger just happened to be a plain-clothes officer who knew of Wooden’s felony convictions. Because people with felony convictions are generally prohibited from possessing firearms, when the officer stepped inside and saw a gun, he arrested Wooden.

How is a plain-clothes officer entering your house without identifying himself as an officer not an unreasonable search?

  • 7
    You should begin with the assumption that the 4th Amendment means nothing if cops are finding evidence to be used against "criminals." There are pleasant surprises when one might retain actual rights, but in the USA, expect courts to side with police.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 15:10
  • 12
    @TigerGuy In that case the police didn't search for "evidence to be used", the criminal himself picked up the gun in plain sight. I don't know of any country where if someone was stupid enough to voluntarily show evidence to the police, the police wouldn't be able to use it due to "unreasonable search". Do you know of any country where people have the right of being immune to evidence they themselves present to the police?
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 6:10
  • 3
    @vsz if there is any such country, I imagine that the police officer's not identifying himself would be a critical element in the analysis.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 11:33
  • 6
    How is this a search in the first place? Anyone can ask to talk to your wife, or to enter your house. He could have done this in his off time. Even if it was done in his off time, plain sight rules would still apply. The officer wasn't performing a search, his wife could have spoken with the offiicer outside of the house.
    – Issel
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 12:51
  • 10
    Not a lawyer, but I find this interesting. The two times an LEO showed up at my front door asking to talk, I followed the advice of every lawyer who's ever discussed this with me: I stepped outside onto the porch, closed the door behind me and had a conversation. This was all because the LEO was in uniform. If a random, unsuspicious looking person shows up at my door, I act differently.
    – Flydog57
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 0:48

4 Answers 4


Wooden made two arguments to suppress the evidence, first that he had not consented to the officer entering his house (the officer and the court disagreed) and the second that even if the officer's entry had been legitimate, the evidence wasn't legitimate because of the Fourth Amendment:

Much of Wooden’s challenge turns on the fact that Mason was neither in uniform nor identified himself as a police officer. Both are true. But generally speaking, neither amounts to improper deception in the Fourth Amendment context. United States v. Baldwin , 621 F.2d 251, 252–53 (6th Cir. 1980) (citing Lewis v. United States , 385 U.S. 206, 211, 87 S.Ct. 424, 17 L.Ed.2d 312 (1966) ). Nor did Mason take any affirmative steps to attempt to deceive Wooden regarding his identity. Mason was silent as to his official position; he did not hold himself out to be anything he was not. He merely asked to speak to Harris and then asked if he could come inside, to get out of the cold.

Probably relevant also is that the officer didn't "search" for the rifle that prompted the arrest. Wooden picked it up in plain sight, the search of Wooden's person that revealed the second firearm was done as the officer arrested him for the rifle and the subsequent search of the house was carried out with the consent of the other resident Janet Harris.

  • 9
    the famous "Plain sight exception"
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 11:21
  • 44
    The famous “don’t pick up a firearm in front of strangers if you are not allowed to own one” exception.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 21:59
  • 22
    @Hobbamok: it’s not complete bs, if the officer had been a civilian and immediately upon seeing the gun pulled out a phone and reported the situation, it would be probable cause for a warrant (although it would have taken longer). The fact that the officer didn’t have to get a warrant because the officer witnessed the crime is really irrelevant. The question would be twofold, (a) was the person acting as an agent (yes in this case) and if so, (b) was the person legally allowed to be there (again yes). The people you allow to view your crimes can generally be witnesses against you.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 11:12
  • 6
    @Hobbamok is there a country where you can invite someone into your home, they see you do something illegal, and you can expect that not to be used as evidence against you? I'm honestly curious why being an officer should have any bearing on that.
    – PC Luddite
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 18:34
  • 13
    @supercat “Granting an uninvited guest permission to physically enter a dwelling does not imply a grant of permission to look at anything therein and take particular notice of what is seen.” This is a lot of fancy words for “you can’t look around”, which is absurd IMO. With the exception of e.g. personal correspondence or medicine labels, I don’t expect things lying around to remain private—are my guests supposed to close their eyes? Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 22:48

If a plain-clothes officer entered your house without your permission or a warrant, then it would indeed run afoul of the 4th Amendment (and the same is true for a uniformed officer.) But essentially no search is considered 'unreasonable' if you consent to it without coercion/duress. Similarly, courts have consistently held that anything seen by an officer "in plain view" from a place where the officer was lawfully present is fair game for evidence. This is known as the "Plain View Doctrine" and its requirements were set out by the Supreme Court in Horton v. California, 1990.

So, if the officer was invited into the house (which the officer and court say was the case) and happened to see something that he knew to be illegal in plain sight (as far as I know, all parties agree that this was the case,) then seizing it as evidence and conducting an arrest is not a violation of the 4th Amendment.

  • 16
    In other words, "not having been told that someone is a police officer" does not constitute coercion.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 6:01
  • 2
    Polite society recognizes a distinction between inviting someone into a dwelling, versus granting an uninvited guest permission to wait inside instead of outside because the rules of courtesy demand it. Should cops be treated as members of polite society?
    – supercat
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 19:24
  • 9
    @supercat The legal question doesn't turn on societal rules of politeness, but rather just on whether the person who saw the evidence was lawfully present in the position from which they saw the evidence in plain view. The description from SCOTUS Blog says, "When the officer stepped inside and saw a gun, he arrested Wooden," which sounds like the officer saw the weapon from the immediate vicinity of the entryway, not that he went snooping around the house looking for something incriminating (which would indeed have probably resulted in the evidence being inadmissible.)
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 20:09
  • 1
    @reirab: On a related note, I think the credibility of an officer's statements about exactly what he saw, and when and where he saw it, should be a legitimate subject of factual inquiry which a defendant should be allowed to have examined by a jury. While allowing a defendant to suppress patently unreasonable evidence would be better than requiring a jury to disregard it, juries should be allowed to evaluate the evidence whose reasonableness is reliant upon factual determinations, and disregard evidence they find to have been unreasonably obtained.
    – supercat
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 20:57
  • 3
    @supercat If the court doesn't suppress the evidence as illegally obtained, then it is a legitimate subject of factual inquiry with the jury tasked on deciding the question of fact. In this case, the jury apparently sided with the officer, considering the defendant was convicted and is appealing. As far as whether it was a real rifle or a replica, seeing a rifle, real or otherwise, should be at least reasonable suspicion for further examination, if not outright probable cause. The officer doesn't have to prove fact on the scene; they just need probable cause for a seizure and arrest.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 21:05

I am not a lawyer. Impartial observations follow.

It seems that consent is not strictly required to be "informed" consent. An LEO in plain clothes has no duty of disclosure in these circumstances. The "plain sight" rule stands even if plain sight would not have been possible from without. There is no privileged confidentiality here.

The onus is upon the convicted felon to assume anyone entering is law enforcement and challenge them before inviting them in, that and keeping things out of sight, or not "possessing those things".

  • 3
    Beginning an answer by saying your opinion is unqualified is not a good way to answer questions. What you say can still be good and true but it is not the tone you want set in an answer.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 17:59

It doesn't matter in this situation whether the police officer was identified or on duty or even if they weren't in fact a police officer. Any citizen who observes another citizen doing something illegal has the power to arrest or testify against them otherwise they risk becoming an accomplice or co-conspirer. So while there are certain procedures that officers have to abide by, it doesn't take away from any rights that any citizen has. The fact that a person saw this other person break the law is sufficient

  • 1
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 22:13
  • 1
    This doesn't answer the question. We are a Q&A site, not a forum, we expect answers to directly address the question raise, not raise tangential issues.
    – Dale M
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 23:07
  • I think the point here is that inviting a stranger into one's house, and allowing that stranger to observe you commit a crime, would potentially have the same consequence regardless of whether that stranger is an undercover police officer. The stranger could go to the police to say what he saw, and testify that's what he saw if it went to trial. So there is a question of whether the fourth amendment is even relevant if the police officer's "search" is not something he would need to be a police officer to do anyway.
    – kaya3
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 11:34

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