Under the 4th Amendment, the Constitution guarantees that an individual is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in their homes and on their persons. However, does the protection extend to garbage that it put out for collection? Generally, the answer to this question is a resounding no.
Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Trash
In determining whether a situation violates a person’s 4th Amendment rights, one of the most important factors courts consider is whether an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. In California v. Greenwood, the Supreme Court considered a case where police investigated a house for suspected drug sales. In their investigation, police officers regularly looked through garbage put out on the curb without a warrant and found evidence of drug use and sales. After reviewing the case, the Supreme Court ruled that a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in garbage that is thrown out for collection. The Supreme Court based this decision primarily on the fact that items thrown in the garbage are considered to be abandoned and thus, an individual has given up all legal ownership in the items. However, the Supreme Court did note that a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy changes based off of the location of the garbage at the time of the search. In other words, garbage located inside your house has 4th Amendment protection, while garbage put out on the street has none.
Generally, you should be aware that the police are legally allowed to search through your garbage for any incriminating evidence. As such, although you may not be throwing away any incriminating evidence, it is a smart practice to never throw away any items that may be sensitive in nature due to the lack of legal protection a garbage can provides.
If you or someone you know have been charged with a criminal charge, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case and possibly get the evidence excluded. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.