May 17, 2012
Others saw evidence.
Who won is still open to debate.
California v. Greenwood came to a vote this week in 1988.
The police, acting on a tip that Billy Greenwood was dealing illegal narcotics, searched trash bags out on his curb.
Incriminating drug paraphernalia.
The police, in applying for a search warrant, included descriptions of what the bags revealed.
Greenwood was convicted.
Greenwood had a smart lawyer that appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming that the search of his garbage was warrantless and therefore illegal.
The highest Court in the land upheld the search, claiming that the bags of trash left on the side of the street were open to inspection by "animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public."
Which includes the police.
Justice Byron R. White, echoing the opinion for the majority, said the privacy of garbage bags left outside the home and its immediate surroundings is not protected by the Fourth Amendment because people have no ''subjective expectation of privacy'' in their garbage ''that society accepts as objectively reasonable.''
Justice William J. Brennan Jr., in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Thurgood Marshall, said, ''Scrutiny of another's trash is contrary to commonly accepted notions of civilized behavior.''
Nevertheless, garbage was ruled public domain and the evidence was admissible.
Did civilization win?