You may doubt whether one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, but law enforcement officers are interested to see what you and your neighbors are putting out to the curb anyway. Trash pulls – where officers grab one or more bags of trash that have been put out for collection and then rummage through the contents – are a popular and perfectly legal way for the police to catch a glimpse of what is going on inside a home. What law enforcement officers find during these pulls can help officers gain a search warrant for a residence and (potentially) charge the occupants with criminal activity.

How a “Trash Pull” Works

There is nothing fancy or mysterious about trash pulls and how they work: law enforcement officers will go to locations – residences and businesses – where criminal activity is suspected and look for trash cans that have been put out for collection. Officers will then take one or more bags of trash back to their station and examine the contents. Law enforcement officers are typically looking for things like:

  • “Shake” or remnants of controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine.
  • Unusual amounts of drug precursors, such as large amounts of drain cleaner or other items that can be used to manufacture drugs.
  • Correspondence that shows who is living or working at the location
  • Ledgers or other documents or evidence that suggest drug sales or transactions may have taken place at the location.
  • Other evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Officers will typically pull trash from the same locations over several weeks. This helps rule out the possibility that some unknown person simply discarded his or her illegal contraband in someone else’s trash can.

Isn’t My Trash Private Property?

Actually, it is not – at least not legally speaking. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides specific protections against unlawful searches and seizures. In order to preserve the rights of individuals under the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court of the United States defined the area that surrounds a dwelling or house or dwelling that requires a search warrant. The area is called “curtilage.” An area is considered to be “curtilage” if the area in question contains the “intimate activity associated with the ‘sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.'” In other words, the “curtilage” is considered part of a person’s home and would require a warrant to be searched by law enforcement.

In the Supreme Court of the United States case, Florida v. Jardines (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the area called “curtilage” cannot be sniffed by a police dog to find marijuana in the 5-4 landmark decision by Justice Antonin Scalia. In 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States court case, Collins v. Virginia (2018), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all motor vehicles that are parked within the “curtilage area” do not meet the standard for the motor vehicle exception in warrantless searches.

The Supreme Court of the United States and courts across the country (including in Florida) have routinely found garbage that is placed curbside for collection and disposal to be “abandoned property.” This means that law enforcement officers do not need anything – not a warrant, not other corroborating evidence suggesting criminal activity, not even a hunch that something nefarious is afoot – in order to pull someone’s trash and examine it. Nor do officers need to inform you before or after they have conducted a trash pull.

The Keys to Your House May Be in Your Trash

If officers discover evidence of criminal activity – marijuana residue in a glass pipe in your trash, for example – then officers will usually apply for a search warrant in order to search the home or business associated with the trash. So long as the applications and supporting affidavits are in proper form and describe the drugs, illegal items, or evidence of a crime found inside the trash, a search warrant is usually granted. Law enforcement officers do not need to present any evidence that the residents or owners of the place to be searched are connected to any criminal activity.

How Can a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Help Me?

Despite all of this, there may be grounds to challenge a search warrant based upon trash pulls where officers impermissibly go onto private property to retrieve trash or do not provide enough information in the search warrant application and affidavit for the judge to find probable cause to issue the warrant. Let the professional team at Musca Law look over your case and help you find weaknesses in law enforcement’s case against you.

Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys will aggressively fight in your defense and work to secure you the best possible outcome. Contact our law office today at (888) 484.5057 for your free criminal defense consultation with us to discuss your legal rights and the criminal charges filed against you.