Can the police legally search through garbage?
The Fourth Amendment protects U.S. citizens against unreasonable search and seizures. Police officers must have probable cause or a warrant to conduct a search.
While you may consider someone rifling through your garbage an invasion of your privacy, in the eyes of the law, often it is not. Courts have ruled that law enforcement can search and seize abandoned property. When you place your trash out for collection, it is considered abandoned and you relinquish any expectation of privacy in it. Garbage sent to the curb is fair game for police officers to search and seize without a warrant or probable cause.
However, the Fourth Amendment does afford you some protection. You maintain an expectation of privacy over items that are not abandoned, which include trash inside your house, trash within your backyard or property surrounding your residence and trash that you carry.
Any evidence obtained lawfully can be used against you in Court. When you leave your garbage out on the curb, anyone can search through it without breaking the law. This includes the police. The next time you put out your trash the night before pick-up day, you may want to think twice about what items are in there, and not just for criminal consequences.
While the majority of Courts have ruled in favor of lawful searches of trash, each case is different. If you feel that your rights have been violated because of evidence obtained in violation of your rights, call the Law Office of Jay Weinberg today at (732) 247-4770 to discuss your case.