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Trash Pulls and Protecting Your Legal Rights During an Investigation

Trash Pulls and Protecting Your Legal Rights During an Investigation
November 11, 2019 Shannon Dawes
Divorce and dissolution under Ohio law.

You may doubt whether one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, but law enforcement officers are interested to see what you and your neighbors are putting out to the curb anyway. Trash pulls – where officers grab one or more bags of trash that have been put out for collection and then rummage through the contents – are a popular and perfectly legal way for the police to catch a glimpse of what is going on inside a home. What officers find during these pulls can help officers gain a search warrant for a residence and (potentially) charge the occupants with criminal activity.

How Trash Pulls Work

There is nothing fancy or mysterious about trash pulls and how they work: law enforcement officers will go to locations – residences and businesses – where criminal activity is suspected and look for trash cans that have been put out for collection. Officers will then take one or more bags of trash back to their station and examine the contents. Law enforcement officers are typically looking for things like:

  • “Shake” or remnants of controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine
  • Unusual amounts of drug precursors, such as large amounts of drain cleaner or other items that can be used to manufacture drugs
  • Correspondence that shows who is living or working at the location
  • Ledgers or other documents or evidence that suggest drug sales or transactions may have taken place at the location
  • Other evidence of criminal wrongdoing

Officers will typically pull trash from the same locations over several weeks. This helps rule out the possibility that some unknown person simply discarded his or her illegal contraband in someone else’s trash can.

Isn’t My Trash Private?

Actually, it is not – at least not legally speaking. The Supreme Court of the United States and courts across the country (including in Ohio) have routinely found garbage that is placed curbside for collection and disposal to be “abandoned property.” This means that law enforcement officers do not need anything – not a warrant, not other corroborating evidence suggesting criminal activity, not even a hunch that something nefarious is afoot – in order to pull someone’s trash and examine it. Nor do officers need to inform you before or after they have conducted a trash pull.

The Keys to Your House May Be in Your Trash

 If officers discover evidence of criminal activity – marijuana residue in a glass pipe in your trash, for example – then officers will usually apply for a search warrant in order to search the home or business associated with the trash. So long as the applications and supporting affidavits are in proper form and describe the drugs, illegal items, or evidence of a crime found inside the trash, a search warrant is usually granted. Law enforcement officers do not need to present any evidence that the residents or owners of the place to be searched are connected to any criminal activity.

How Can a Columbus Criminal Defense Attorney Help Me?

Despite all of this, there may be grounds to challenge a search warrant based upon trash pulls where officers impermissibly go onto private property to retrieve trash or do not provide enough information in the search warrant application and affidavit for the judge to find probable cause to issue the warrant. Let the professional team at Dawes Legal, LLC look over your case and help you find weaknesses in law enforcement’s case against you. We will aggressively fight in your defense and work to secure you the best possible outcome. Contact our office today at (614) 733-9999 to schedule a consultation with us to discuss your criminal charges.