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California v. Greenwood


Officers had information indicating that the defendant was involved in trafficking narcotics. They obtained garbage bags from his regular trash collection left on the curb in front of his house. The officers developed probable cause and obtained a search warrant based on evidence found in the garbage. The search warrant yielded quantities of controlled substances. The defendant and others were arrested and released on bail. The officers again received information that the defendant was engaged in narcotics trafficking. Again the officers obtained his garbage from the regular trash collector. A second warrant was executed and the officers found more evidence of trafficking in narcotics.


Whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in garbage left for collection outside the curtilage of his home?


No. The defendant abandoned any reasonable expectation of privacy in the items he left for collection outside the curtilage of his home.


An individual abandons any expectation of privacy in garbage bags once left at the curb outside his curtilage. 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. In addition, in this case, the defendant placed his trash at the curb for the express purpose of conveying it to a third party, the trash collector. The trash collector might have sorted through the trash or allowed others, such as the government, to do so. Accordingly, the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the items discarded. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, does not enjoy Fourth Amendment protection.


486 U.S. 35, 108 S. Ct. 1625 (1988)

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