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Police can’t rummage through your curbside garbage without warrant, Oregon Supreme Court says

Goldhedge

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Police can’t rummage through your curbside garbage without warrant, Oregon Supreme Court says
Updated May 9, 2019; Posted May 9, 2019


What's in your garbage bin is your own business and not for police to search without a warrant, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday. (File photo)

By Aimee Green | The Oregonian/OregonLive

The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday disagreed with more than 50 years of state case law by ruling that Oregonians retain a privacy interest in the garbage they leave on the curb for pick-up -- and that means police can’t simply rummage through it even after a truck hauls it away.

The state’s residents have a reasonable expectation that after they leave their trash in opaque bins covered with a lid, no one -- including the garbage haulers’ employees -- will inspect it without a warrant, the court wrote.

“In our view ... most Oregonians would consider their garbage to be private and deem it highly improper for others — curious neighbors, ex-spouses, employers, opponents in a lawsuit, journalists, and government officials, to name a few — to take away their garbage bin and scrutinize its contents,” Justice Lynn Nakamoto wrote in her 6-1 majority opinion.

The decision went on to reference a 2002 Willamette Week story, in which reporters from the publication sifted through the curbside garbage or recycling of Portland’s police chief, Portland’s mayor and the Multnomah County district attorney, then reported on what the reporters had found.

“Most Oregonians would be outraged were their garbage subject to such examination,” the high court wrote.

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Tracy Lynn Lien and Travis Allen Wilverding, who shared a home and were convicted of methamphetamine dealing after police from the 16,000-resident city of Lebanon asked the community’s garbage hauling company, Republic Services, to pick up and set aside the contents of the pair’s garbage on collection day in 2014. Police then dug through that trash, found evidence of drug activity and got a warrant to search the home. That led to the convictions.

The high court found that police had violated the Oregon Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches because Lien and Wilverding had privacy interests in their trash and because the garbage hauling company acted as “an agent” of police by collecting the trash for a detective.

In setting aside their convictions, the Supreme Court reversed earlier decisions by then-Linn County Circuit Judge Daniel Murphy in 2014 and the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2017.

The ruling clashes with all or part of past rulings by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1968 and 2007, when the high court OK’d warrantless searches of trash collected by motel maids or curbside garbage haulers. In both of those cases, what police found led to drug convictions for the suspects.

The majority opinion noted that even the U.S. Supreme Court has said Americans don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy “in trash left for collection in an area accessible to the public.” But the U.S. Supreme Court also said individual states are free to impose “more stringent constraints on police” based on their own constitutions.

Thursday’s ruling applies to curbside refuse collected from private homes. It doesn’t appear to apply to trash thrown in public garbage cans in public places. It’s unclear how the ruling might affect residents of condominiums or apartments, where trash is thrown in communal bins.

One Oregon Supreme Court justice -- Senior Justice Pro Tem Rives Kistler -- dissented. Kistler wrote that he didn’t understand the majority’s dispute with the notion that “once garbage is picked up, the garbage collection company, at that point the rightful owner of the garbage, can decline to mix it with other garbage, can gift it to the police, and can consent to any search of the contents.”

Lebanon’s police chief and the Linn County district attorney couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment. It’s unclear how frequently police there or elsewhere in the state search suspects’ trash.

In Portland, police spokesman Sgt. Brad Yakots said he couldn’t say for certain if the bureau’s officers ever search through curbside trash collected from residents. But Yakots said: “In my 12 years with the bureau, I have never heard nor seen officers look through garbage that had been placed on the curbside for collection.”

He continued: “We will obviously take a look at the Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling and educate ourselves to the new case law.”

-- Aimee Green
agreen@oregonian.com
 

the_shootist

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#2
Don't shit where you eat and you don't need to worry about someone crawling through your trash!
 

Fatrat

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The Supreme Court will disagree I'm sure.
 

Scorpio

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#4
all fine and ducky, but I don't see the po po going thru too much trash,
easier for them to pull a gun on ya and threaten you or arrest you without cause

as for trash, nosy neighbors, people trying to get intel, all of that,
how does that play?
 

oldgaranddad

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The Supreme Court will disagree I'm sure.
If I remember correctly the SCOTUS already ruled that the minute you deposit garbage at the curb you lose all rights to refuse.
 

Mujahideen

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Thursday’s ruling applies to curbside refuse collected from private homes. It doesn’t appear to apply to trash thrown in public garbage cans in public places. It’s unclear how the ruling might affect residents of condominiums or apartments, where trash is thrown in communal bins.
Just highlighting.
 

Bottom Feeder

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#7
Ya suppose the bears in Or-e-gone are exempt from this?
 

oldgaranddad

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If I remember correctly the SCOTUS already ruled that the minute you deposit garbage at the curb you lose all rights to refuse.
I found it.

California versus Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988), is the case where the SCOTUS held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the warrantless searches and the ability to seize your garbage left for collection outside of the home.