Who Owns Trash?
Interestingly, you may never pay much attention to your trash, especially if it is left outside your house, but the police can easily target it for a search. Most people consider law enforcement officers too invasive when it comes to searches and seizures; thus, the idea of someone rummaging through their trash without your approval does not sit well with many people.
Most trash is actually public property.
The Fourth Amendment
In the United States Constitution, the Fourth Amendment is the primary law that deals with searches and seizures. This amendment was added specifically to the Bill f Rights to ensure that the public is protected against unreasonable searches or seizures frequently done by law enforcement officers.
The Fourth Amendment protects the public from privacy issues like wiretaps and surveillance. On the contrary, the amendment does not explicitly mention the word privacy. Instead, it is implied. The court uses this amendment to determine whether a search is done in a way that meets the requirements of the law.
It is hard to imagine that something you threw away in your trash could spark a debate on privacy and the infringement of your rights. In 1988, in a case referred to as California v. Greenwood, the Supreme Court ruled that an individual held no reasonable expectation of the privacy in their trash.
Yes, the police can legally dumpster dive. (and often do)
Thus, the Fourth Amendment does not prevent law enforcement officers from searching and seizing an individual’s garbage. Though, courts continue to ponder whether a search that does not have a warrant infringes an individual’s Fourth Amendment Rights.
Many courts have found that when garbage is placed in certain locations that the rest of the public can access, an officer can legally be able to go through the trash.
However, a few courts have ruled against the search and seizure of garbage, even if it is left in a public place, because it violates a person’s constitutional rights.
Does the Location of the Garbage Matter?
In certain cases, the Fourth Amendment protects an individual from police searches because of the location of the garbage. Therefore, understanding the circumstances that a court might consider regarding any decision in a garbage search case is crucial.
These considerations might be where the garbage was seized and any precautions taken to ensure privacy was upheld.
Generally, most courts have approved searches and seizures if the garbage is located in certain locations like:
- It is set on the sidewalk or the curb of one’s home
- It is found on the yard of the property or in the surrounding area
- It is stored in the garage
- The garbage is in a motel or a hotel room
- If it is inside the office
- In a communal trash bin especially, those shared in apartments
Which Circumstances are the Police Prohibited from Searching an Individual’s Trash?
Very few courts have upheld that law enforcement officers are prohibited from searching an individual’s garbage in the locations given above.
These minority of courts found that the state’s constitution protected an individual’s privacy despite the U.S. Constitution not doing so.
Moreover, if the law enforcement officers searched a trash bin located in the house without a valid search warrant, or if the search was conducted by trespassing on private property, then it can be considered that the law officers did an illegal search.
Also, the police cannot search and seize the trash you carry n your pockets or in your bags, like receipts. Therefore, they would violate your Fourth Amendment rights if they did that. Also, trash left inside your car warrants a certain degree of privacy that would be infringed if the police did any search.
Hire a Lawyer
Unlawful searches and seizures are serious matters that might mean your constitutional rights have been infringed. Also, if you are being charged with a crime, and the police officers gained crucial evidence from the unlawful search, it could make the real difference in your court case on whether you will be convicted or set free.
Contact a criminal defense attorney familiar with your state’s laws regarding privacy expectations in your state constitution. There is a very fine line regarding your privacy rights. Thus, it is important to have an experienced lawyer.
Need an Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529
Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.