Generally speaking, you have a right to privacy in your home, your garage and elsewhere on your property. If the police want to search that property, they need to get a warrant. Exceptions do exist for crimes in progress and things of this nature, but warrants are needed overall.
Does that right to privacy extend to your trash? Clearly, it’s covered when it’s inside your home, just like anything else that you own. But what if you wheel the bin out to the curb in the evening, in anticipation of the pickup in the morning. Could a police officer stop by during the night and look in your trash without a warrant?
Trash is fair game, but DNA is controversial
To start with, the police can certainly look into your trash without a warrant. They’ve been able to do this since the late 70s when courts decided that throwing items out counted as abandoning them and therefore removed the person’s right to an expectation of privacy over their trash once it hit the curb.
This has led to some controversial moves, though, as DNA evidence has become more important and widely used. Generations ago, people weren’t worried about throwing away this identifying information, but modern technology makes it possible to get someone’s DNA off of many common items found in the trash. The police have therefore collected DNA without a warrant, arguing that it is legal, while opponents have argued that DNA is fundamental information about a person that they did not voluntarily surrender and should have more protection.
As technology changes, laws often struggle to keep up. Be sure you know what rights you have if you’re worried about your future or are facing any kind of criminal charges. Working with an experienced defender may be key.