Search of Trash Without a Warrant and the Fourth Amendment

Searchof Trash Without a Warrant and the Fourth Amendment

Searchof Trash Without a Warrant and the Fourth Amendment

Theconstitutional modification that would govern officer Jones’actions, in this case, is the Fourth amendment. According to thisamendment, it is illegal for law enforcement officers to carry outirrational searches and arrests without a warrant. There arecircumstances under which the Fourth amendment does not apply, forinstance, search of garbage dumped in public places without awarrant. Nevertheless, many would argue that the defendant, in thiscase, did not dump his rubbish in a public place but his curtilagewas where it was supposed to be picked by the neighborhood’sgarbage collector. Hoglund(2016) argues there are conditions that make the fourth amendmentimpractical even in the case where a police officer executes orrequests a warrantless search of garbage left in curtilage or privateresidential area for collection.

InCaliforniav. Greenwood(1988)the Supreme Court asserted that the Fourth Amendment does not outlawthe search and confiscation of trash in places accessed by the publicwithout a warrant. Jenny Stracner, a police with the LagunaBeach Police Departmentfound out that Billy Greenwood may be selling unlawful drugs.Stracner found evidence of drug use after going through the trashbags that Greenwood left on his curb. She used the evidence toacquire a warrant to look through Greenwood’s house where theyfound marijuana and cocaine. Greenwood was arrested and arraigned incourt for possession of illegal drugs. The Superior Court ofCalifornia discharged the allegations against Greenwood and uponappeal by the prosecution, the Court of Appeal upheld the judgmentasserting that unwarranted garbage search and seizure violated theFourth Amendment. However, the Supreme Court granted judicial writand overturned the verdict of the Appeal Court. The court noted thatunder the amendment, a warrant was not essential to search and seizegarbage since Greenwood did not have a judicious expectation ofconcealment in it. According to the Court, it is common knowledgethat trash left in curbs and along streets is readily accessible tomembers of the public and animals thus, anything exposed to thepublic knowingly is not subject to the amendment.

Theissue, in this case, is whether Officer Jones’ actions violated theFourth amendment making the search and seizure illegal andunconstitutional. There are some factors that can make one concludethat Officer Jones’ actions were invalid and constitutional.According to the doctrine of abandonment, once trash has beengathered by garbage collectors regardless of where it was placed, itis considered abandoned and hence has lost its reasonable expectationof privacy (Ohm, 2012). This is because a garbage collector may seesuspicious materials or items in the trash and voluntarily turn themover to the police. However, in this case, the issue is that theOfficer did not retrieve the trash from the curtilage by himself, nordid the garbage collector hand over the trash to him voluntarily. Herequested the trash collector to do it for him, making the latter anagent of the police. Therefore, it can be argued that the policeofficer wanted the garbage collector to do something that he as apoliceman, could not legally do (Murphy, 2013).

However,from my opinion, I would argue that Officer Jones’ actions wereconstitutional. By placing his garbage on the curb, the defendantexpected the trash collector to remove it for disposal. Therefore,the defendant should have realized that the trash collector couldhave inspected the trash or allowed a third party access it beforedisposal. In his book, Del Carmen (2013) supports this argument byexplainingthat an entity loses any reasonable expectation of privacy in theirgarbage by throwing it in bags and abandoning it along the streets oreven disposing of in curtilage. This is because such an act exposesthe trash to risks of being accessed by deceitful person (who can bethe trash collector) or even a scavenging animal. By throwing thetrash to the curb, the defendant was knowingly exposing it to thepublic and hence not protected by the Fourth amendment. Therefore, itis irrational to argue that Officer Jones should have averted hiseyes from the trash, already exposed to the public, which could offerevidence of criminal activity perpetrated by the defendant.Furthermore, after searching the garbage, the officer went ahead andacquired a search warrant for the defendant`s premises beforearresting him.

Underthe principles of plain view, abandonment, open fields, or bordersearches, Officer Jones’ actions can be said to be justified.According to Hoglund(2016), a person loses Fourth amendment protection by leaving his orher trash in curbs or curtilages since it loses any reasonableexpectation of privacy. Under the doctrine of abandonment, a trashcollector who collects garbage from a curtilage and hands it over tothe police is considered a private actor for Fourth Amendment (Ohm,2012). Since the trash collector, in this case, was acting in thescope of a routine garbage collection when he handed over thedefendant`s trash to the officer, it can be concluded that theofficer’s actions were justified under the doctrine of abandonment.


Californiav. Greenwood,&nbsp486&nbspU.S.&nbsp35(1988)

DelCarmen, R. V. (2013).&nbspCriminalprocedure: Law and practice.Cengage Learning.

Hoglund,L. M. (2016). Constitutional Law: hey, that`s my trash: warrantlesssearches of garbage under the Minnesota constitution-state v.McMurray.&nbspMitchellHamline L. Rev.,&nbsp42,353.

Murphy,E. (2013). The politics of privacy in the criminal justice system:Information disclosure, the Fourth Amendment, and statutory lawenforcement exemptions.&nbspMichiganLaw Review,&nbsp111,485.

Ohm,P. (2012). The Fourth Amendment in a world withoutprivacy.&nbspMississippiLaw Journal,&nbsp81(5),1309.