The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Courts have frequently confronted the question whether a warrant-less search and seizure of one's garbage offends an individual's 4th Amendment rights.
The vast majority of courts have found that when garbage is located in a place accessible to the public, police officers may legally search your garbage, which is why trying to hide evidence in the garbage is a bad idea. However, at least a few courts have ruled that a warrant-less search and seizure of garbage, even when left in a very public place, violated an individual's constitutional rights.
Significant factors in "garbage search" cases include the exact location where the garbage was seized and any special precautions taken to maintain privacy in the garbage. The majority of courts have upheld searches and seizures of garbage in a variety of locations, including:
A minority of courts have held that officers are not allowed to search an individual's garbage in several of the locations listed above, including the sidewalk in front of your house, the yard surrounding your house, or your office. In these cases, courts found that state constitutions protected an individual's interest in the privacy of his garbage even though the Federal Constitution did not. Additionally, if police search the garbage within your house without a valid search warrant or conduct their search while trespassing on your property, you may have a claim that they conducted an illegal search.
If you are accused of a crime based on evidence found by police officers while searching through your garbage, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer will be familiar with the laws of your state and whether your state constitution protects your expectation of privacy in your garbage.
Last Modified: 10-27-2015 03:31 PM PDTLaw Library Disclaimer
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