California v. Greenwood 486 U.S. 35 (1988)
CALIFORNIA v. GREENWOOD 486 U.S. 35 (1988)
A person's trash if subjected to public scrutiny might reveal intimate matters that could be embarrassing and even expose one to blackmail or criminal prosecution. But anyone throwing away household trash takes the risk of exposure, even if the trash is disposed of in an opaque plastic bag that is sealed. This was the Supreme Court's announcement in this case.
Justice byron r. white, for a 6–2 Court, held that the fourth amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures does not apply to those who leave their sealed trash outside their curtilage for collection by the trash collector. In this case, an observant police-woman, suspecting Greenwood of dealing in narcotics, obtained the trash collector's cooperation and found enough incriminating evidence to establish probable cause for a search of the residence. This evidence was used to convict him. The question was whether the initial warrantless search of the trash violated the Fourth Amendment. The Court ruled that those discarding their trash by placing it on the street for collection abandoned any reasonable expectation of privacy they might otherwise have. The two dissenters believed that the warrantless investigation of the trash constituted an appalling invasion of privacy.
Leonard W. Levy