How Trash Pulls are Used in Criminal Law Cases

March 3, 2022 Criminal Defense

Trash pulls occur when law enforcement officers take the trash you have put out to the curb for collection and look through it in the hopes of finding something they can use to establish probable cause. If they do happen to find something that establishes probable cause, they may be able to attain a search warrant to then search your home. But how is this legal? This blog will discuss the relevant law and procedures when it comes to trash pulls in Florida criminal cases.

What is the Law?

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant. This means that law enforcement cannot just knock on your door and search the trash inside your home. This protection also extends to your home’s curtilage, or the area around your home. Therefore, law enforcement is not permitted to search your trashcan placed directly outside your home, like on your porch or up against your house. However, law enforcement is allowed to search trash placed on the curb. Why is that? Because courts have determined that you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy if you leave your trash on the curb to be collected. The court in Stone v. State held that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to garbage placed out for collection by the garbage man. They also held that the act of placing trash out for collection is an act of abandonment and therefore, no Fourth Amendment protection applies. Furthermore, the court in United States v. Segura-Baltazar held that whether the Fourth Amendment protection applies depends on whether the trash left for collection is “readily accessible to the public,” rendering an expectation of privacy unreasonable. Consequently, it must be determined on a case-by-case basis whether the trash was readily accessible to the public when it was seized by law enforcement.

Can Police Take my Garbage?

As strange as it may seem, yes. This process is neither complex nor secretive. Law enforcement will frequent areas where they suspect criminal activity is taking place and will seize bags of garbage back to their station to sift through. Often, law enforcement will take the garbage from the same locations over a long period of time. This is to ensure they have sufficient evidence to list on their affidavit, increasing the likelihood that a judge will sign a search warrant.

What Kind of Criminal Activity are they Looking For?

Most often, agents or officers are searching for evidence of illicit drugs in the hopes of establishing narcotic law violations. This evidence may include remnants of illegal substances like marijuana seeds and stems or cocaine residue, discarded drug paraphernalia, or anything else they can use as evidence. However, trash pulls are not only used during narcotics investigations. This tactic may be utilized by law enforcement in any case, such as a murder case where they are looking for evidence that the murder occurred, as well as fraud where they may be looking for discarded documents that help establish probable cause.

Possible Defenses

Our trash, as insignificant as it may seem, reveals sensitive information about our lives. As a result, many people have no idea that their trash could be used as evidence against them. There is a very fine line that law enforcement may not cross when it comes to searching your trash. Whether law enforcement legally searched your trash is based on whether it was placed in a location and manner where you had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Depending on where you placed the trash, a possible defense is that the trash in question is still within the curtilage of your property. In such an instance, the absence of a warrant or immediate probable cause means that the evidence obtained from your trash will not be admissible in court.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges and law enforcement has improperly pulled from your trash, it is imperative you hire a qualified Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to have that evidence suppressed. Don Pumphrey and the member of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience and will fight zealously to uphold your rights. Give us a call at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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