If the police get a warrant for it, they can come into your house and search through your trash as they like. But they have to have a warrant, just as they would with any search of private property or your home.
But are there other times when the police can look in your trash without a warrant? Is this a tactic that they may use to try to find evidence, or at least to get enough evidence to get a warrant for a search of the house?
Items that leave your residence
Essentially, the police have the right to look in your trash once it leaves your home or apartment. They don’t need a warrant to do this. You have no expectation of privacy for trash that has already left your immediate possession.
This is why the police will sometimes go to the local garbage dump to look for evidence if they believe it’s been thrown away. But they can also simply just look in your trash bin if it’s sitting out on the side of the street and waiting for pick up. If you see an officer going through your trash at this time, you may feel that they are violating your rights by searching your possessions without a warrant, but it has been legally recognized that they are allowed to do this as long as the bin is not on your private property.
Did the police make a mistake?
If you do end up facing charges and you have some questions about evidence-gathering or if proper procedures were followed, be sure you understand your legal options. Evidence may be thrown out if it was gathered incorrectly.