The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes your protection from an illegal search and seizure of your property. However, there are times when your property might not fall under constitutional protection, such as when you throw something away in the trash.
Could the police search your trash and seize something from it as evidence? Sometimes the answer is yes, but it depends if your trash is in a private location.
Your reasonable expectation of privacy
A police officer generally needs a warrant to search a location where you have a legitimate reason to expect privacy. The police cannot simply enter your home or search your purse or briefcase since the law usually designates them as private. Similarly, an officer cannot use sensory equipment to scan or photograph your home or vehicle without a warrant.
The location of your trash
Where you put your trash is important. A garbage bag in your home is likely to have privacy protection. Since zones of privacy generally include home yards, privacy rights should also cover trash in your backyard.
It is another matter if you put your bag out on the curb. This is because a curb is a public location, so there is no expectation of privacy. The police or anyone else could look through your trash. Putting out your trash may also count as abandoning it, which means you have given up your rights to it.
Sometimes people dispute a police search of their trash, so it is not a given that an officer is in the right after looking through your garbage. Think about where you have placed your trash so you have a good idea if law enforcement violated your rights.