Can The Police Take Your Trash Without A Warrant?

A recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision says, yes. When trash is put out to the curb or alley for collection there is no longer an expectation of privacy and it may be searched without a warrant.


In State v. McMurray, No. A12-2266, 2015 WL 1085000 (Minn. Mar. 11, 2015), law enforcement received a tip from a mandated reporter who believed a child’s parents (McMurray) were using illegal drugs in their home. An investigator and member of a Drug Task Force team learned that both of the McMurrays had prior controlled substance convictions. The officer contacted the commercial truck driver who collects the trash from the McMurray residence and made arrangements for the trash collector to gather the trash at the curb and turn it over to the officer.

The search of McMurray’s garbage yielded drug residue and paraphernalia. All of this information led to a search warrant of the McMurray’s residence, where more Methamphetamine was found. Subsequently, McMurray was charged and convicted of third-degree possession of a controlled substance.

McMurray argued that the warrantless search of his trash was in violation of Article I, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution, which provides,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized.

Lower Court Decisions

The district court denied his motion. The court of appeals agreed, stating that “

[f]ollowing United States Supreme Court precedent, Minnesota courts have consistently held that garbage left on a curb or adjacent to an alley that is seized in a routine curbside pickup does not constitute an illegal search.” McMurray then petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing that the Minnesota Constitution requires greater protection than the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Minnesota Supreme Court Decision

The Minnesota Supreme Court concluded that there is no basis to interpret Article I, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution to afford greater protection against warrantless searches of garbage set out for collection. According to precedent, a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in garbage set out for collection on the side of a public street because such garbage is readily accessible to scavengers and other members of the public.

Here, McMurray left the garbage at the curb outside his home with the expectation that the garbage collector would take it. Any member of the public could have accessed McMurray’s garbage without trespassing on his property, and police do not need a warrant to search items that are exposed to the public. Because a police officer could have taken the garbage from the curb directly, it was lawful for the officer to obtain McMurray’s garbage from the garbage collector.

The warrantless search of McMurray’s garbage, therefore, was reasonable under both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution.

Attorneys Tom Sieben and Patrick Cotter have years of experience navigating Minnesota’s legal system and have successfully defended countless criminal cases. If you want skilled and experienced criminal defense attorneys on your side, call the Sieben & Cotter Law Office at 651-455-1555 for your free initial consultation.

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