You are protected from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That means police cannot search your person or property unless they have probable cause or a search warrant to do so.
You may not think of it this way, but your garbage is also your personal property. Garbage may contain sensitive information that could affect your case if you are facing a criminal charge. Generally, when you throw something away, you have a reasonable expectation that whatever you throw away will be disposed of and not searched by police in an effort to charge you with a crime. In this scenario, “reasonable expectation of privacy” is an important phrase.
Understanding “reasonable expectation of privacy”
Police can search through your garbage only if you do not have a reasonable expectation that the garbage is private. In other words, police need probable cause or a search warrant to search and sift through trash outside your home, inside your home, in your car, or in your pockets, purse or bag — because you generally have a reasonable expectation of privacy in those places. One exception is that police may have grounds to search through trash that is left exposed on the curb outside your home, but even this type of evidence may be disputed in court if it is unclear who placed the trash on the curb.
Maybe police investigators do a so-called “trash pull” from a person’s garbage can, and the investigators find a receipt from a storage facility. On the basis of the receipt, the investigators then execute a search warrant at the storage facility, where they find illegal drugs. Any subsequent criminal charges related to the drugs may be dropped if the police did not have probable cause or a warrant to search the garbage can where the receipt was found.
If you have questions about criminal charges resulting from a search or seizure of property, do not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. The sooner you can get sound legal counsel and representation, the sooner you can start protecting your rights and future.