On this day in 1988 , The United States Supreme Court allowed a search of a person’s trash without first obtaining a search warrant . Since that ruling a trash pull has become a standard police tactic in drug crime investigations. Once you put your trash can to the curb , the police can sift through your garbage looking for evidence of a drug crime. They will be looking for packaging material , seeds and stems , and paperwork.
The court ruled that the trash searches did not require a search warrant . The court found there was no expectation of privacy because it was common knowledge that people rummaged through trash cans. Justice Brennan wrote the dissent. and reasoned the following ;
[t]he mere possibility that unwelcome meddlers might open and rummage through the containers does not negate the expectation of privacy in their contents any more than the possibility of a burglary negates an expectation of privacy in the home.
Justice Brennan’s opinion is more true today than in 1988. Thanks to the NSA and identity theft going through other peoples trash is just a bad idea. For example , I sneak out at midnight on the day before the trash is picked. I sift through the garbage and take something. I just committed a theft. I exercised control over a item without the owner’s effect consent. How can we justify allowing the police search my garbage if I set it on my property for roadside pick-up. Maybe it is time to revisit the constitutionality of trash pulls ?