Can the Police Search My Trash?

Trash: To Search or Not to Search.

Here’s the scenario: you take your trash out to the curb every Monday and Wednesday night. Seems like a pretty innocuous chore, but weeks later you learn the police have been collecting and looking through your trash in order to obtain enough information to obtain a warrant for your arrest. But that’s your stuff, in your trash, so the police can’t do that, right? Wrong.

In the landmark case of California v. Greenwood, 468 U.S. 35 (1988), the Supreme Court ruled that there is no 4th Amendment protection when police look through trash that is on the curb, ready to be collected. The court goes on to explain that since the trash is outside, ready for pickup or, in essence, discarded, it is “readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public”. California v Greenwood, 468 U.S. 35 (1988). So, what’s the lesson in all of this? Don’t put anything in your trash that you do not want others to have access to because you never know who is looking through it lawfully.