Police Search Garbage – Legal in Minnesota?
As a way of obtaining probable cause to issue a search warrant on the home of a person suspected of drug offenses, police search garbage for evidence. The United States Supreme Court in California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988) held that people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in trash set out on the curb for collection.
While individual states have the ability to extend greater Fourth Amendment protection than that provided by the U.S. Constitution, individuals should understand that Minnesota law generally permits the police to conduct a fishing expedition through your garbage without a warrant.
Minnesota Court Reviews Case where Police Search Garbage Cans Without a Warrant
In Minnesota v. McMurray, 860 N.W.2d 686 (Minn. 2015), the Minnesota Supreme Court considered whether the state’s Constitution provides protection of garbage in trash bins located on the curb for collection that extends beyond federal law.
The police in this case received a report that the defendant was observed with a pipe apparently intended for drug use. A police officer contacted the trash collection driver and arranged his cooperation in securing the defendant’s trash after the can was rolled out onto the curb.
A search of the contents of the trash can revealed plastic bags containing “white residue” that later tested positive for methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. This evidence was a significant factor that helped the police obtain a warrant to search the defendant’s home, where 3.3 grams of methamphetamine was discovered.
The defendant’s motion to suppress evidence from searching the garbage cans and home was denied and ultimately was convicted of third-degree possession of a controlled substance.
Comparing Minnesota’s Constitutional Protections with the Fourth Amendment
McMurray sought to suppress the drugs based on a violation of Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution, which states:
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.
Our state’s highest court first noted that this provision was very close in language to the comparable one in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Minnesota Supreme Court further noted the general principle in “favoring uniformity” with the U.S. Constitution when the language of the state constitution is substantially similar.
Additionally, the court noted that the state will deviate and extend greater protection when there is a principled basis for such a divergent interpretation.
Digging Deeper into the Court’s Analysis
The state’s highest court cited prior decisions indicating three situations where a similar state constitutional provision will be interpreted to grant greater protection:
- The U.S. Supreme Court has sharply deviated from prior decisions
- It has “retrenched on a Bill of Rights issue,” or
- The precedent would not provide adequate protection to the rights and liberties of those in Minnesota.
In applying these three factors, the Minnesota court first noted that the Greenwood decision was consistent with prior U.S. Supreme Court decisions finding that:
- No 4th Amendment protection exists if a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy, and
- Individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to items knowingly placed in public view.
With respect to the second factor, the court found that Greenwood did not reflect a substantial retrenchment in terms of warrantless searches. Rather, the decision was consistent with a significant majority of state courts.
When considering the third factor, the court noted that there was no “unique, distinct, or peculiar issue of state and local concern that dictated special protection.”
Based on this analysis, the court concluded that the search and seizure provision of the Minnesota Constitution, like its federal equivalent, did not protect garbage placed on the curb for collection.
Seeking Legal Advice Immediately is Critical in these Cases
The laws and related situations are not always straightforward, though. For example, trash cans might be located at the top of the driveway where they are picked up for collection.
Since all of the evidence from the trash and the subsequent search of a home might be subject to suppression depending on the facts, you should seek legal advice if you are facing criminal charges based on a warrantless search conducted by law enforcement.
If you have been arrested and charged with a drug crime in Minnesota, we invite you to speak to a Twin Cities Criminal Lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can start protecting your rights.
Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.