Police officers trying to build a case against a suspect will often do whatever they can to gather evidence. Sometimes, they may even take steps that might lead to challenges against that evidence in court.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and property seizures. Those who work in law enforcement must adhere to specific rules regarding how they gather evidence. If a defendant can show that police misconduct played a role in the collection of evidence, the courts typically cannot include that evidence in a criminal trial.
You have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your own home and you also have a right to deny police officers entry onto your property to search unless they have a warrant or probable cause. Did police officers violate your rights because they went through your trash with neither your permission nor a warrant? Here’s what you need to know right away.
The location of the trash determines your rights
The use of someone’s garbage to connect them with criminal activity is a common police tactic and it has previously resulted in a major Supreme Court ruling concerning this exact issue. There isn’t a black-and-white answer to whether or not it is legal for officers to search your trash bin,
Where your trash bin was at the time that police officers looked through it will determine whether or not they violated your rights by searching a garbage container without a warrant. If the container was still beside your garage or adjacent to your front porch, feet from your door, then the police may not have had legal justification to go through it on a warrantless basis.
However, once you wheel the bin out to the curb or set bags out for pickup, police officers can then theoretically go through that trash to look for evidence. Whether or not your trash was part of your home’s curtilage will determine if the search in question was inappropriate. Trash bins at the curb are subject to searches, but those quite close to the home and not yet out for pickup may be part of the curtilage of the home and therefore subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Details matter when building a defense. Tiny differences, like whether you had put your trash out for pickup yet or not, can sometimes make all of the difference if you’re trying to fight back against pending criminal charges. Discussing your situation in depth can help you evaluate the best options for your criminal defense strategy, which may or may not concern the location of your trash at the time of a search.