Monday, September 19, 2016

One man's trash is another man's ... evidence

In California v Greenwood, 486 US 35 (1988), the US Supreme Court ruled that under the Fourth Amendment, once a person puts his trash at curbside for collection [which in that case included evidence of drug use and trafficking], no warrant is necessary to search that trash because the person leaving it has no reasonable expectation of privacy in it.

This is the federal interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. Individual states are always free to enact laws that give greater protections to their citizens.

The Supreme Court of Washington has ruled that a provision in its own state constitution does extend privacy protections to its citizens beyond the federal guarantee.  In Washington, the police need a warrant to snoop through your trash.

Therefore, in some states you have an expectation of privacy in your garbage, and in other states [and/or on federal land], you don't.

Unfortunately, unless your neighbors are police officers or similar, neither of these philosophies can protect your trash from neighborhood busy-bodies and snoops.


  1. Thanks, Dena. I always wondered 'cause you see it in the movies. But as for the neighbours... ugh! Who'd want to go through the trash just to satiate curiosity?

    1. Well, I suppose if you're looking for dirt on your neighbors? It's doubtful people just throw away documents with SSN or driver license info, but I would guess identity thieves will look anywhere. I suspect, like you do, that it wouldn't be all that pleasant to just go thru someone's trash "for fun". Yuck.

  2. Oh, Dena, there's a story in that trashy blog post. I can smell it. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    I saw an ID channel story where an undercover cop posed as a trash collector and at a particular house he set the trash on the back of the trash truck to keep it separate from the other bags. At the end of the block, he ended his tour and took the trash bag with him. Found the evidence he was looking for. I don't remember, but I guess it didn't happen in Washington because they made no mention of a warrant.

    Good stuff, that was a fun read. I gotta quit being so busy and come back more often!

    1. LOL your jokes are too funny! People who commit crimes shouldn't put their incriminating evidence in the trash, even in states like Washington. Thanks for stopping by. I hope to see you more often.