You know that law enforcement officers typically can’t search your home without a search warrant unless they have your permission or there are exigent circumstances, like a concern that someone is trying to destroy evidence.
However, do they have a right to look through your trash? It all depends on where it is.
Trash that’s outside your home
If you’ve placed your trash or recycling bins out by the curb or thrown the bag into a communal dumpster in a common area of an apartment or condominium complex, police can nab it and search through it. Courts have ruled that people have no reasonable expectation of privacy for anything they’ve thrown out that’s no longer on their premises and is in a publicly accessible area.
Trash that’s inside your home
Trash that’s in a wastebasket in your home or in a garbage or recycling bin in your garage is another matter. That’s on your property, so a search warrant or exigent circumstances would be required to look through it.
Trash in your vehicle
If you have a bag of trash in your car when you’re pulled over, it’s best not to assume that this won’t be searched by police, with or without permission or a warrant. Courts have typically allowed for a lower expectation of privacy in a person’s car – especially if the items are visible. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth arguing in court that it’s not admissible.
Every situation is different. Therefore, if you believe that evidence that is being used against you was obtained illegally, tell your attorney precisely where and how it was found. They can determine whether they can argue that it was obtained illegally. If a judge agrees that it can’t be used against you, that can have a dramatic impact on the course of your case.