The Oregon Court of Appeals threw in its vote on the application of the Fourth Amendment to the collection of curbside trash. Chipping away at long established Supreme Court opinions, which I wrote about in some detail first here and then here, the Judges delivered yet a new twist on search and seizure.
Prosecutors argued that once people put out their garbage for curbside collection, they have given up any legally protected “privacy or possessory interests” in it. The appeals court disagreed, saying the defendants put their garbage cans “in a particular place in order to facilitate a limited purpose … pickup and disposal by a designated collection company. ”The unanimous three-judge panel added: “Defendants did not implicitly authorize anyone else to paw through their garbage and view or take items of garbage.” Read the article
Didn’t implicitly authorize anyone? Then why is it called garbage? Clearly, these Judges aren’t the ones who put the garbage out at their houses. Anyway, the garbage service contracts with the municipality not the individual tenant. So, I guess the government agency could claim that the curbside trash is theirs, just as they do with items left for recycling. And maybe that gives the police even more right to the contents.
Garbage cans, like bicycles or cars, are commonly left on or near the street by individuals and, even if those individuals do not take the precaution of securing such items with locks, we would not infer from their unlocked state that the individuals who placed them there intended to abandon them.
You might be miffed if someone took your garbage can but we’re talking about the contents here. People, lock your plastic bags!
Read the opinion and tell us whether this also applies to civilians, who may not be obtaining trash for legal evidence.