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Can the police search my trash without a warrant?

When you gather up your trash and put it on the curb for pick up, you are probably not thinking that it may contain something of interest to the police. Trash is just trash, right? Not necessarily.

Though The Fourth Amendment protects you from illegal search and seizure, it does not protect you from searches conducted in neutral or public places. You need to think twice about what kind of sensitive information you are putting in your trash bag.

When does my trash become public property?

The moment that you set your trash on the curb in front of your house, it becomes public property. Therefore, the police can search through it without notifying you. Courts may allow evidence obtained without a warrant from garbage bags and cans in the following locations:

  • The curb in front of your house
  • The property surrounding your apartment
  • Your yard
  • Your garage
  • In dumpsters throughout the city
  • In public trash cans found in places such as schools, offices, bus stations, etc.

Anyplace where trash is placed for pick up is considered searchable by law enforcement, even if they do not have a warrant.

Why would the police search my trash?

The police may suspect that you are selling drugs, but they may not have enough evidence to obtain a search warrant. By searching through your trash, they may find incriminating evidence such as drug paraphernalia. This evidence will be shown to a judge, who in turn will most likely issue a warrant to search your home and property,

Should you be arrested based on evidence found in your trash, it is important that you speak to an experienced legal guide as soon as possible.


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