, Derry, New Hampshire

Crime / Court

June 20, 2012

Trash is public property once it's outside

How do I keep my trash private? I'm involved in a court lawsuit and my trash disappeared before the trucks came and I don't think that's right.

Get a paper shredder. Once trash is placed outside, there's no reasonable expectation of privacy.

It's not a pretty picture, but there have been high-profile divorce cases in which one party grabbed the other party's trash and sifted through looking for evidence which, if otherwise passing the rules of evidence, was admissible in a court of law.

In a California drug case, prosecutors went through a private citizen's trash, found evidence of drugs and, based on that, obtained a search warrant which yielded marijuana and cocaine inside the home. California courts dismissed the drug charges holding the warrantless search through the rubbish violated constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures.

But, that's not the law of the land. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the California courts. The Supreme Court held that it was common knowledge that garbage placed at curbside is "readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops and other members of the public."

I got pulled over for driving with my lights off. The officer asked me if I had been drinking and I told him I only had a couple, which was true. The police made me get out of the car and do field sobriety tests. I passed, but they still didn't believe that I was not intoxicated. They had me do the breathalyzer and booked me. How do I prove that I was not intoxicated?

The question turns the legal process inside out. You don't prove anything. The burden of proof is on prosecutors to establish each element of the DWI charge. Defense attorneys chip away at the evidence to raise reasonable doubt and that is the short version of the process you face.

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