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: 04-17-2018 08:51 PM PDTLaw Library Disclaimer
We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.