Can Police Search Your Trash?

Many people believe the government, law enforcement, and other entities are too invasive, especially when it comes to searches and seizures. No one likes the idea of their home or property being searched without their approval, let alone for gaining evidence against them. But what about your trash? Do police have the right to search through your personal garbage?

When it comes to your rights, your property, and law enforcement officials, there is a fine line that authorities might inappropriately cross. That is why it is crucial that you know your rights so you can defend your privacy and liberty. Our Tampa criminal defense lawyers see clients get in tough legal situations because they were trying to be cooperative and nice to police officers by allowing them to search their personal property or belongings rather than exercising their rights to protect their property.

What Does the Law Say About Searching Trash?

Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, you are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures if the officers do not have a warrant to do so. Essentially, this means that unless an officer has probable cause to search your property that’s also backed by a warrant, they don’t have a right to do so.

How does this apply to trash? It’s funny to think about garbage as personal property, but trash can contain sensitive items that could influence a criminal case against you—in a negative or positive way. You throw things away with the perfectly reasonable expectation that they will be taken to be disposed of, not be rifled through and potentially used against you.

The police can search trash only if a person does not have a reasonable expectation that it is private.

The police can’t search the following types of trash unless they have a warrant or probable cause:

  • Trash inside a home
  • Trash outside of a home
  • Trash in a person’s pockets or bags
  • Trash in the back of a car

You have a right to protect your property within your home’s boundaries, even if you throw it away as trash. If the police desire to search your trash can, whether it is inside or outside your home, they must need probable cause or a warrant to do so. They can’t simply drive up to your home, open the trash bin you keep at the side of your property, and search it for evidence in an attempt to charge you with a crime or secure a conviction.

Why Would Florida Police Want to Search a Person’s Trash?

Searching a person’s trash is sometimes referred to by police as “trash pulls.” These searches are often used to obtain evidence for the use of narcotics and other types of drugs. Officials look for discarded paraphernalia, remnants of illegal substances, and anything else that might assist their case. However, trash pulls aren’t only used during investigations of drug use. Officers might try to search trash when a person is suspected of murder or even a white collar crime such as fraud.

Can Police Search Trash That’s Left on a Curb?

Curtilage is a word used to describe the area around a person’s home. Typically, a person’s right to privacy extends to their home’s curtilage. However, if a trash can, trash bag, or any other type of waste is stored on a curb, the police can search it and use anything they find as evidence. Courts have determined that a person cannot expect privacy if they’re leaving trash outside of their home on the curb for disposal. However, in some instances, trash police pull from a sidewalk can be disputed in court if they can’t prove who placed it there.

Why can police search trash that’s left on a curb? Because it’s considered to be abandoned and “readily accessible to the public,” as determined in United States v. Segura-Baltazar. In this case, the trash in question was still within the curtilage of the property, but it was deemed readily accessible to the public because of its location and the fact that sanitation workers regularly picked up trash from that area even when it wasn’t taken all the way past the curb.

If your trash was “readily accessible,” this could mean that law enforcement will feel they have the authority to search it. It does not mean, however, that the evidence found in that trash can or should be used against you. Your attorney can argue the admissibility of evidence from different standpoints, depending on the unique scenario.

Can Police Search Your Trash Without a Warrant?

While law enforcement doesn’t necessarily always need a warrant to search and seize your property, they do need at least need proven probable cause. In the absence of a warrant, police can only search your trash if they have sufficient reason to believe that a crime is currently being committed or that someone’s well-being is in danger. If it can be proven that they didn’t have a valid warrant or immediate probable cause, any evidence obtained from your trash or garbage could be deemed inadmissible in court and can’t be used against you.

However, you’ll likely need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to have evidence improperly pulled from your trash suppressed as evidence. At Thomas & Paulk, P.A., we’ve helped thousands of people facing criminal charges in the Tampa Bay area. We’re ready to fight for you and use our experience to protect your rights. No one deserves to have items unlawfully pulled from their trash used against them, and we’re ready to work to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

The sooner you call, the sooner we’ll be able to start investigating your case and start forming your defense. Call us now at (813) 221-4200 to speak with a member of our team at no cost. Can police search your trash? We don't think so.

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