Do you have an expectation of privacy with your trash?
Your expectation of privacy is important. It generally applies to your home and property, where the police cannot usually enter without your permission or a warrant. This is your private property, and there has to be a very significant reason to override that right to privacy. The police cannot just enter people’s homes on a whim and look for evidence. They need to show justification first and get a warrant, secure a homeowner’s permission or be responding to an emergency.
Police officers will sometimes look through trash or garbage to try to seek evidence that has been thrown away. Maybe they believe someone was selling illegal drugs and that they will find drug paraphernalia. Perhaps they think someone was committing financial crimes, like embezzlement or tax fraud, and they believe that incriminating documents are in the trash. If you find yourself in this position, does your expectation of privacy extend to your trash, or are the police free to look there to seek the evidence that they want?
It depends on the location of the trash
The location is the key here. Trash itself doesn’t have any expectation of privacy, but it does exist as long as it’s in your home. Just because you’re throwing something away doesn’t mean that the police can come onto your property and look through your garbage. Once you roll your bin out to the curb, however, things change. You no longer have any expectation of privacy because you’ve put those items in a public place. They are intended to be collected by public workers. The police are allowed to collect evidence from your trash if they find it under these circumstances.
Additionally, the police will sometimes go to landfills or other locations to seek evidence that they believe has been thrown away and has already been collected. Evidence collected in this way can be very difficult for them to find, so it’s not common, but it also wouldn’t be a violation of your rights. By that point, anything that is in a public location can be examined by the authorities.
The impacts of evidence collection
The way that police officers collect evidence can have a massive impact on an individual’s criminal case. If you have been arrested and you know or suspect that evidence being used against you was obtained in violation of your rights, seek legal guidance and assistance right away.