Can the Police Search Through Your Trash?

The answer may surprise you and depends on where the trash or garbage is located.

According to, the 4th amendment to the constitution protects you and your property from search and seizure. However, garbage placed in a public location or on the curb at the street is NOT protected and is subject to search by police, nosy neighbors, pickers, children, animals and the like.police search trash

The 4th amendment to the constitution states: ” The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

However, in 1988, the Supreme Court decided that the 4th Amendment does not prevent law enforcement from rifling through your garbage left outside for collection without a warrant (California v. Greenwood, 486 US 35).

In some cases, police have actually searched through citizen’s garbage left at the street for pickup to gather evidence to be used to support issuance of a warrant to search inside of a home. While some people may find this surprising, it’s up to everyone who wants to maintain privacy to take measures against those who wish to snoop in your things and violate your privacy.

What can you do? Here are some suggestions:

-Don’t leave things in public places around or outside of your house that you wouldn’t want someone to see.

-Screen what you put in your garbage bin prior to setting it on the curb for pickup.

-Place garbage bins on the curb only when garbage collector arrives (or just minutes before hand).

-Dispose of higher profile garbage (like credit card info, personal data, medical information, etc.) using an alternative method, such as shredding, burning, composting or placing in a more secure disposal place.

-Coordinate with neighbors/friends to beef up neighborhood security.burn paper in fireplace

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