It’s a common tactic for the police to search your trash when they’re investigating a crime and the law allows them to do it.  You have to be careful about what you put in your trash and where you put your trash barrels.  

Throwing Something in the Trash Means It’s Abandoned

The law allows the police to go through anything that’s considered abandoned. So when you put your trash in a hefty bag or in a trash barrel and stick it out by the curbside, you’re basically telling the world that you don’t want it anymore. The law says that in those circumstances, anybody, including the police, can go through it and take what they want. They don’t need a search warrant. They don’t need any justification. It’s one of the first things that many police officers will do when they’re investigating a crime and they don’t have a lead to start with. They go to your trash. They go to your curbside. They go to a dumpster at your business.

Happens All the Time

We had this happen to a client not that long ago.  The client was suspected of dealing drugs. The police went to their business and located a dumpster on the side of the building. There they found a number of things such as packaging materials which had drug residue on them and other things that were all addressed to the business.  The police used this and some other information to get  a search warrant and raid the business.  Hidden inside the business in multiple locations was a large quantity  of drugs.  

How to Protect Yourself

If  you take steps to be careful about what you’re throwing away and where you put your trash you can protect yourself.  Make sure that the trash is in an area that’s not open to the public.  So for instance, when your trash is in your backyard, behind a fence, just basically away from the curbside  this is called the curtilage of your home.  It encompasses the  immediate surrounding area of your home where you conduct family activities.  In the case of a business, if you have the dumpster or other trash receptacle in a fenced-in area with a locked gate it would similarly be protected from police intrusion. 

In either of these circumstances the police would need some legal justification to search this area.  In most circumstances that means them seeking a search warrant.  If they don’t have enough information to establish probable cause, the court should not give them one.  

This is why it’s really important that you be careful about what you put in your trash and of course, where you put it.

If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email.