If you open the window one morning to see a police officer rifling through your trash can, you need to understand your rights.
They’re not looking for leftover food but for something that could help them prosecute you for a crime. Any evidence they find may be admissible in court, or you may be able to persuade a judge to throw it out. It all depends on where your trash can was at the time.
The police need a warrant if it is on your property
The police cannot reach through an open window to grab your trash can from the kitchen unless they have a warrant. Your Fourth Amendment right to privacy from unreasonable search and seizures pretty much extends within the boundaries of your property. So, inside your house, on your porch, in your car parked on your driveway and on the lawn inside your fence should all be out of bounds to a police search unless they get the necessary warrant.
Once you step off your property onto public land, the police can dig through your trash as much as they like.
Despite the rules being seemingly clear, there are still occasions when the police might claim they were within their rights, and you will need legal help to persuade the judge that they were not.
Evidence is crucial to criminal cases, and casting doubt on whether the police breached your rights in obtaining it could be your best shot at getting the charges against you dismissed. If you face criminal charges, get legal help to examine all possible defenses, however tentative they might seem.