Attorney Bradley Hawley

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Can the police legally obtain evidence from my trash?

On Behalf of | Mar 21, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

The idea of the police entering your home or property to conduct a search can be frightening. However, the police can gather evidence for an ongoing investigation from just about anywhere, including your trash. 

But can the police legally search through your garbage? Keep reading to find out.

What does the law say?

The Fourth Amendment protects you from illegal search and seizure by law enforcement officers. However, the law isn’t clear about privacy. Therefore, courts determine whether searches are conducted in a way that doesn’t breach the law. 

Unfortunately, trash isn’t always considered private property, meaning the police can legally search through the trash you left by the curb without a warrant. This is because leaving your trash outside means that you’ve abandoned it and no longer need the contents of the trash. 

The location of the garbage can impact the legality of the search

While garbage is considered public property, its location may protect you from police searches. Generally, the courts will consider the garbage as public property if it’s located in the following locations:

  • The curb of your home
  • On the yard or surrounding area
  • Communal trash bin

There may be other exceptions, but if your trash bin is in your garage, home or on the porch rather than the edge of your property, the police usually cannot search it without a warrant. If it’s already been “abandoned” for collection, they usually can.

If you believe that an unlawful search and seizure has led to your criminal charges, you should consider seeking legal assistance to help you determine whether the police violated your rights.