California v. Greenwood 486 U.S. 35, 108 S. Ct. 1625, 100 L. Ed.2d 30 (1988)
The police suspected Greenwood
of selling drugs. They asked the garbage collector to give them
Greenwood's garbage bags.
Inside the bags they found
evidence of illegal drugs.
Based on the garbage, the
police were able to get a search warrant, searched Greenwood's house and found
lots of drugs. Greenwood was arrested for drug possession.
At trial, Greenwood argued
that the intrusion into his garbage was an unreasonable search and
seizure and therefore violated the 4th
The trial judge found that the
warrantless search of the garbage was improper and dismissed the charged.
The prosecutor appealed.
The trial judge found that a
search of someone's garbage violated the 4th Amendment.
The Appellate Court affirmed
the dismissal. The prosecutor appealed.
The California Supreme Court
refused to grant certiorari to hear the case. The prosecutor appealed.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and found that searching garbage is not a violation of the 4th
The US Supreme Court found
that Greenwood had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
The Court believed it to be
common knowledge that garbage at the side of the street is "readily
accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members
of the public."
The Court noted that Greenwood
had left the trash there expressly so that the trash collector, a
stranger, could take it.
In Katz v. United
States (389 U.S. 347 (1967)), the
Court concluded that "what a person knowingly exposes to the
public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of 4th
Aka the third party
disclosure rule, which says that
if you willingly give information to a third party, you willingly give
up the right to privacy, even if you give it to them with an
expectation of confidentiality!
That includes phone
records, bank records, internet search data, etc.
Greenwood tried to argue
that he subjectively expected privacy, but the Court applied an
objective standard and said that the reasonable person would not expect
the contents of their trash to remain private.
In a dissent it was argued
that the fact someone may rummage through the garbage does not negate the
expectation of privacy in their contents any more than the possibility of
a burglary negates an expectation of privacy in the home.
Especially since "scrutiny
of another's trash is contrary to commonly accepted notions of civilized
The dissent argued that the
standard should be that "so long as a package is closed against
inspection, the 4th Amendment protects it's content wherever they may be."
It was argued that garbage
is kinda like luggage, except that instead of transporting goods it is
for discarding them. And you can't look into luggage without a warrant.
When is a discarded item
no longer considered the property of the owner? When does it become
abandoned? And should 4th Amendment protections still apply to abandoned items?
Should it make a difference
whether the garbage man finds the evidence on his own and calls the
police, or if the police direct the garbage man to look for the evidence?