California v. Greenwood
California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988), was a case
Legal case
A legal case is a dispute between opposing parties resolved by a court, or by some equivalent legal process. A legal case may be either civil or criminal...

 in which the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 held that the Fourth Amendment
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause...

 does not prohibit the warrantless
Search warrant
A search warrant is a court order issued by a Magistrate, judge or Supreme Court Official that authorizes law enforcement officers to conduct a search of a person or location for evidence of a crime and to confiscate evidence if it is found....

 search and seizure of garbage
Waste is unwanted or useless materials. In biology, waste is any of the many unwanted substances or toxins that are expelled from living organisms, metabolic waste; such as urea, sweat or feces. Litter is waste which has been disposed of improperly...

 left for collection outside the curtilage
The curtilage is an important legal term to define the land immediately surrounding a house or dwelling, including any closely associated buildings and structures, but excluding any associated 'open fields beyond'. It defines the boundary within which a home owner can have a reasonable expectation...

 of a home
A home is a place of residence or refuge. When it refers to a building, it is usually a place in which an individual or a family can rest and store personal property. Most modern-day households contain sanitary facilities and a means of preparing food. Animals have their own homes as well, either...



In early 1988, Investigator Jenny Stracner of the Laguna Beach Police Department learned from various sources that Billy Greenwood might be selling illegal drugs
Illegal drug trade
The illegal drug trade is a global black market, dedicated to cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of those substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws. Most jurisdictions prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of drugs by drug prohibition laws.A UN report said the...

 out of his single-family home. In April, Stracner asked the neighborhood's regular trash collector
Waste collector
A waste collector is a person employed by a public or private enterprise to collect and remove refuse and recyclables from residential, commercial, industrial or other collection site for further processing and disposal...

 to pick up the plastic garbage bags
Bin bag
A bin bag, swag sack or bin liner or garbage bag, trash bag, refuse sack, black sack, or can liner is a disposable bag used to contain rubbish. Such bags are useful to line the insides of waste containers to prevent the insides of the receptacle from becoming coated in waste material...

 that Greenwood left on the curb in front of his house. In the garbage, she found evidence of drug use. She used that information to obtain a warrant to search Greenwood's home. When officers searched the house, they found cocaine
Cocaine is a crystalline tropane alkaloid that is obtained from the leaves of the coca plant. The name comes from "coca" in addition to the alkaloid suffix -ine, forming cocaine. It is a stimulant of the central nervous system, an appetite suppressant, and a topical anesthetic...

 and marijuana. Greenwood and Dyanne Van Houten were arrested and released on bail
Traditionally, bail is some form of property deposited or pledged to a court to persuade it to release a suspect from jail, on the understanding that the suspect will return for trial or forfeit the bail...


In May, another investigator again had the garbage collectors pick up the garbage bags left on the curb. The garbage again contained evidence of drugs, the police obtained another search warrant, and they found more drugs and evidence of drug trafficking in the house.

The California Superior Court dismissed the charges against Greenwood and Van Houten on the ground that unwarranted trash searches violated the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, as well as the California Constitution
California Constitution
The document that establishes and describes the duties, powers, structure and function of the government of the U.S. state of California. The original constitution, adopted in November 1849 in advance of California attaining U.S. statehood in 1850, was superseded by the current constitution, which...

. The Court of Appeal
California Court of Appeal
The California Courts of Appeal are the state intermediate appellate courts in the U.S. state of California. The state is geographically divided into six appellate districts...

 affirmed. The Supreme Court of California
Supreme Court of California
The Supreme Court of California is the highest state court in California. It is headquartered in San Francisco and regularly holds sessions in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.-Composition:...

 refused to hear the appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari
Certiorari is a type of writ seeking judicial review, recognized in U.S., Roman, English, Philippine, and other law. Certiorari is the present passive infinitive of the Latin certiorare...

 and reversed the judgment of the California Court of Appeal.


By a 6-2 vote (Justice Kennedy took no part in the case), the Court held that under the Fourth Amendment, no warrant was necessary to search the trash because Greenwood had no reasonable expectation of privacy in it. Although Greenwood had hidden the trash from view by putting in opaque plastic bags and expected it to be on the street only a short time before it would be taken to the dump, the Court believed it to be “common knowledge” that garbage at the side of the street is “readily accessible to animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

s, child
Biologically, a child is generally a human between the stages of birth and puberty. Some vernacular definitions of a child include the fetus, as being an unborn child. The legal definition of "child" generally refers to a minor, otherwise known as a person younger than the age of majority...

ren, scavenger
Scavenging is both a carnivorous and herbivorous feeding behavior in which individual scavengers search out dead animal and dead plant biomass on which to feed. The eating of carrion from the same species is referred to as cannibalism. Scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem by...

s, snoop
A busybody is someone who meddles or pries into the affairs of others.Busybodies have been the subject of plays, including one by 18th century dramatist Susanna Centlivre, and fictional accounts. "The Busybody" is used for the name of a character in Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. American...

s, and other members of the public.” Moreover, Greenwood had left the trash there expressly so that the trash collector, a stranger, could take it. Quoting Katz v. United States
Katz v. United States
Katz v. United States, , is a United States Supreme Court case discussing the nature of the "right to privacy" and the legal definition of a "search." The Court’s ruling adjusted previous interpretations of the unreasonable search and seizure clause of the Fourth Amendment to count immaterial...

, the court concluded that "[w]hat a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection."

Greenwood argued that the evidence should be excluded under the California Constitution, which the California Supreme Court had interpreted to prohibit warrantless searches of garbage left at the curb. An amendment to the California Constitution, however, had eliminated the exclusionary rule
Exclusionary rule
The exclusionary rule is a legal principle in the United States, under constitutional law, which holds that evidence collected or analyzed in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights is sometimes inadmissible for a criminal prosecution in a court of law...

 for unconstitutionally obtained evidence. The Court rejected Greenwood’s claim that the amendment violated the Due Process Clause. It held that so long as the police conduct did not violate federal law, "California could permissibly conclude that the benefits of excluding relevant evidence of criminal activity do not outweigh the costs."


Justice Brennan reasoned that the possibility the police or other “unwelcome meddlers” might rummage through the trash bags “does not negate the expectation of privacy
Expectation of privacy
In United States constitutional law the expectation of privacy is a legal test which is crucial in defining the scope of the applicability of the privacy protections of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution...

 in their contents any more than the possibility of a burglary negates an expectation of privacy in the home.” Under United States v. Chadwick
United States v. Chadwick
United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1 , was a decision by the United States Supreme Court, which held that, absent exigency, the warrantless search of double-locked luggage just placed in the trunk of a parked vehicle is a violation of the Fourth Amendment and not justified under the automobile...

, the bags could not have been searched without a warrant had Greenwood been carrying them in public. Merely leaving them on the curb for the garbage man to collect, Brennan argued, should not be found to remove that expectation of privacy, for “scrutiny of another's trash is contrary to commonly accepted notions of civilized behavior.”

See also

External links

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