On March 11, 2015, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided there is no expectation of privacy for trash or garbage placed on the curb or in an alley for collection. The police can lawfully search your trash or garbage without a warrant.
The case is State of Minnesota vs. David Ford McMurray. Police received a tip that David McMurray had drugs in his home. When McMurray left his garbage on his curb for pickup, police had the garbage collector deliver McMurray’s trash to them to search it for drugs. Police did find some drug residue and drug parahernalia, which they used as a basis to secure a search warrant for McMurray’s home. When police searched McMurray’s home, they found plastic bags containing methamphetamine. McMurray was charged with third-degree possession of a controlled substance (a felony offense).
Constitution Protects Us From Unreasonable Searches
Minnesota Constitution, Article 1, Section 10, reads: 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.
McMurray asked the district court to throw out the evidence (that is, the drugs found by police) arguing that the warrantless search of his garbage violated Minnesota Constitution Article I, Section 10. In other words, McMurray claimed that police needed a warrant to search his curbside garbage and because they didn’t have a warrant, anything they found was taken illegal and can’t be used against him.
The district court disagreed with McMurray and denied his request to throw out the evidence, so he appealed. The court of appeals agreed with the trial court and said the evidence should not have been thrown out as McMurray requested. He then appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, who had to answer the following question: Does Minnesota’s Constitution give greater protection then the U.S. Constitution regarding warrantless searches of garbage set out for collection in an area accessible to the public? The Minnesota Supreme Court said “no,” that our state constitution does not give more protection than the U.S. Constitution in this particular case, and that it was lawful for the police to search McMurray’s garbage from the garbage collector. The Minnesota Supreme Court ultimately said that because the search of McMurray’s garbage without a warrant was reasonable, the eventual search of McMurray’s home was valid.
Police Can Search Curbside Trash Without a Warrant
So what does this case mean for Minnesotans? It means that when you place your garbage or trash on the curb to be picked up by the trash collector, anyone can dig through that garbage without breaking the law. McMurray put his trash on the curb with the expectation that the garbage collector would take it. Anybody could have gone through McMurray’s garbage without stepping foot on his property, therefore the same idea applies to police – they can look through your garbage because once you leave it on your curb for pickup, you are abandoning it. This certainly makes you think twice about what items you’re putting in the trash.