So-called “trash pulls” have become a powerful tool in many criminal investigations, and people need to be aware of the practice and what it can mean for them.
A “trash pull” is what police call it when they gather up someone’s discarded garbage from the curb and sort through it to look for evidence that can be used in a criminal investigation.
Your trash really is “fair game” for the police
A lot of people feel like trash pulls are an invasion of privacy – but the courts have generally disagreed. While the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, that protection only applies when the person in question has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The courts have consistently held that people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over their trash once that trash has hit the curb for collection. Officially, that means the property is “abandoned.” The police can then sort through it and even take it, without the necessity of a warrant. This same privilege does not extend, however, to trash that is still on the curtilage (surrounding area) of your home, such as behind an enclosure or right next to your house where you normally keep the bins – although exactly how “curtilage” is defined around any given home can be the subject of many legal disputes.
Your trash can also be used to justify a warrant
In Ohio, the evidence obtained from trash pulls is often used to justify obtaining a search warrant. If law enforcement officers find evidence that can be tied to criminal activity, such as drug paraphernalia or incriminating documents, that may be enough probable cause for a warrant that will allow them to search your home for additional evidence.
It’s always critically important for people to be aware of their rights – and the limitations of those rights, especially in regard to their privacy. If you end up facing charges after a trash pull, learning more about how the law works and your defense options can make it easier for you to more fully participate in your own defense.