The Rehnquist Court (1986–2005)

Criminal Justice

Can the police search garbage bags in front of a house without a warrant?

Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned this practice in California v. Greenwood (1988). The police searched the garbage bags placed in front of an individual’s lawn and found evidence that tied him to drug transactions. They used the information gathered from the trash bags to obtain warrants to search the defendant’s home. That search produced illegal narcotics. The individual claimed the warrantless search of his garbage bags in front of his home violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed, writing: “Here, we conclude that respondents exposed their garbage to the public sufficiently to defeat their claim to Fourth Amendment protection. It is common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left on or at the side of a public street are readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public.”


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