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One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s…Evidence?

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s…Evidence?


Tomorrow is trash day. So, you gather up the trash, wheel it down to the end of your driveway and leave it there. The next day, before the sanitation company comes by to collect it, you find the police are taking bags out of your trash can. Now, you might be thinking, “Well, as long as they have a warrant, then I guess they can do it.” However, you might be surprised to know that the police do NOT need a warrant to search through your trash.

The Fourth Amendment protects against searches and seizures and generally requires that police demonstrate probable cause to obtain a search warrant before going through your personal property. There are some exceptions to this warrant requirement, for instance, when police search vehicles. Yet, unlike vehicle searches, which still require probable cause, police don’t need probable cause to go through your trash. In fact, under the Fourth Amendment, they don’t need to even have a “reasonable suspicion,” they can just search your trash.

Indiana is different. In Indiana, Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution does provide some protection against trash searches. Under the Indiana Constitution, there are two requirements that police need to meet to search through someone’s trash. First, the police must retrieve the trash in a manner that is substantially similar to how the trash collector would take it. This requirement means that if the trash collector picks up your trash from an alley behind your apartment or house, then that’s how the police need to do it. Or, if the trash collector picks it up from the end of the driveway, then that’s where police need to have it picked up from. The police should not be going onto your property to look through your trash without a search warrant.

The second requirement is that the police need to possess an articulable individualized suspicion that the person whose trash they are searching has engaged in criminal activity of a sort that might cause evidence to be located in the trash. This means that, in Indiana, the police cannot just go through random people’s trash. Instead, they need to be able to articulate a reasonable suspicion that the particular person they are targeting is engaged in illegal activity. Police have a reasonable suspicion when the facts of the situation, combined with reasonable inferences from those facts, would lead an ordinarily prudent person to think that criminal activity either has or is about to occur.

In summary, police do not need a warrant to search through your trash. In Indiana, for police to search the trash, the trash 1) must be retrieved in substantially the same manner as the trash collector would take it, and 2) the police must possess an articulable individualized suspicion that the target of the search was engaged in illegal activity.

If you believe your rights have been violated, contact McNeelyLaw today. Call us at 317-825-5110 to talk to an experienced attorney who can help you navigate through the complexities of your case.


This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.


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