As a resident of this country, you have certain rights under the U.S. Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
But, what exactly is “reasonable” under the eyes of the law when it comes to warrantless searches of your garbage? Here’s what you need to know:
The police often dig through trash looking for evidence
Whether they want your genetic material to try to match your DNA with the DNA found at a crime scene or they’re looking for evidence that you’re running a drug operation out of your home, your trash has a lot of value to the police.
However, you still have a certain expectation of privacy when it comes to the trash that’s still in your possession, even if you clearly intend to throw it away later. This means that the police
can’t walk inside your home, your garage or your backyard and start searching your bins or looking through trash bags.
Those areas, along with any area that might be defined as the “curtilage” of your home, are generally off-limits to warrantless searches. The curtilage usually also includes any enclosure meant to hold your trash cans or other part of your property around your home.
Once you put your bins on the curb for pickup on trash night, however, the law considers your garbage to be “abandoned” property, and abandoned property is fair game for the police because you lose that expectation of privacy you once had.
Whether or not a trash pull was legally done and the evidence it produced should be admitted in court isn’t always as clear-cut as it might seem. If you believe that your rights were violated by an illegal search, it’s best to explore all your legal options.