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U.S. Const. amend. IV does not prohibit the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside the curtilage of the home. The search and seizure of garbage violates U.S. Const. amend. IV only if a defendant manifests a subjective expectation of privacy in the garbage that society would accept as objectively reasonable. A defendant retains no reasonable expectation of privacy in the garbage deposited in an area particularly suited for public inspection and, in a manner of speaking, public consumption, for the express purpose of having strangers take it.
A federal grand jury indicted defendant-appellant Kenneth H. Hedrick on thirteen counts involving possession and distribution of cocaine and money laundering. During trial, defendant moved to suppress from admission into evidence all items seized from the warrantless search of the garbage at his residence. The defendant argued that the warrantless search of his garbage, which was placed in cans within the curtilage of his house, was unreasonable. The garbage searched was located in opaque bags inside garbage cans with closed lids. The defendant's garbage cans were located halfway up the driveway of a residential home, somewhat closer to the sidewalk than the garage, when the police searched their contents. The United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois denied his motion and convicted the defendant on all counts. The defendant challenged his conviction and the admission of the seized evidence.
Did the defendant possess reasonable expectation of privacy in the garbage?
The Court held that the garbage cans that were located 20 feet from the garage and approximately 50 feet from the back door of the house were technically within the curtilage of the home, in which privacy expectations were most heightened. However, because the distance between the garbage cans and the public sidewalk was relatively short, the garbage was collected by the garbage service from that location, and the garbage cans were clearly visible from the sidewalk, the Court held that the defendant possessed no reasonable expectation of privacy in the garbage. The garbage was right in the middle of the driveway, and the proximity of the garbage cans to the sidewalk and the absence of a fence or any other barrier indicated that the garbage was knowingly exposed to the public. What a person knowingly exposed to the public, even in his home or office, was not a subject of U.S. Const. amend. IV protection, and garbage placed where it was not only accessible to the public but likely to be viewed by the public was knowingly exposed to the public for U.S. Const. amend. IV purposes. Accordingly, the decision of the district court denying the motion to suppress, and the conviction was affirmed.