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“Trash Pulls” and the Fourth Amendment

A “Trash Pull” is a technique employed by law enforcement where they literally go through a suspects garbage, looking for potential evidence of criminal activity or to verify the identification of the residents via “indicia of residency” such as utility bills, etc.

Law enforcement does not need to procure a warrant in order to search anyone’s garbage.  Law enforcement does not even need to demonstrate “reasonable suspicion.”

Garbage containers, bags, etc., are right out on the street, ie; public space.  The Supreme Court has held that garbage cans constitute “abandoned property” and the individual loses any privacy interest or standing to challenge the search.

Anything from a call to police from a neighbor alleging illegal activity, to inclusion in an ongoing criminal investigation can trigger a trash pull.

A mere hunch is sufficient to justify a trash pull.  Hearsay, rumor and innuendo can be enough to pique an Officer’s interest in one’s trash.

Anything incriminating the police find can be used by law enforcement to secure a search warrant for the premises to which the trash originated from.

One common misconception regarding a trash pull is law enforcement needs to find something in the trash that ties it to a specific person or persons at the residence in question, such as mail or a utility bill containing names and the address. This is false. The issue is whether the trash pull leads law enforcement to have probable cause to believe the residence contains contraband.

A person of interest to law enforcement need not actually rent the property in question, and may not even receive any mail there at all. They could simply be sleeping on the couch at their buddy’s home.

Marijuana growers beware!

One of the biggest mistakes someone with even a small marijuana grow operation can make is to throw out anything associated with growing marijuana– leaves, root balls, even something as innocuous as light fixtures, ballast boxes, etc– with their usual garbage, which can then be used to secure a search warrant for the premises. I have seen this situation come back to haunt people more times than I care to remember.

The bottom line is, trash placed on a public street or sidewalk is not protected under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

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Patrick Nightingale“Trash Pulls” and the Fourth Amendment