486 U.S. 35 (1988), 86-684, California v. Greenwood

Docket Nº:No. 86-684
Citation:486 U.S. 35, 108 S.Ct. 1625, 100 L.Ed.2d 30, 56 U.S.L.W. 4409
Party Name:California v. Greenwood
Case Date:May 16, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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486 U.S. 35 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 1625, 100 L.Ed.2d 30, 56 U.S.L.W. 4409

California

v.

Greenwood

No. 86-684

United States Supreme Court

May 16, 1988

Argued January 11, 1988

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA,

FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT

Syllabus

Acting on information indicating that respondent Greenwood might be engaged in narcotics trafficking, police twice obtained from his regular trash collector garbage bags left on the curb in front of his house. On the basis of items in the bags which were indicative of narcotics use, the police obtained warrants to search the house, discovered controlled substances during the searches, and arrested respondents on felony narcotics charges. Finding that probable cause to search the house would not have existed without the evidence obtained from the trash searches, the State Superior Court dismissed the charges under People v. Krivda, 5 Cal.3d 357, 486 P.2d 1262, which held that warrantless trash searches violate the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution. Although noting a post-Krivda state constitutional amendment eliminating the exclusionary rule for evidence seized in violation of state, but not federal, law, the State Court of Appeal affirmed on the ground that Krivda was based on federal, as well as state, law.

Held:

1. The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside the curtilage of a home. Pp. 39-44.

(a) Since respondents voluntarily left their trash for collection in an area particularly suited for public inspection, their claimed expectation of privacy in the inculpatory items they discarded was not objectively reasonable. It is common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left along a public street are readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public. Moreover, respondents placed their refuse at the curb for the express purpose of conveying it to a third party, the trash collector, who might himself have sorted through it or permitted others, such as the police, to do so. The police cannot reasonably be expected to avert their eyes from evidence of criminal activity that could have been observed by any member of the public. Pp. 43-44.

(b) Greenwood's alternative argument that his expectation of privacy in his garbage should be deemed reasonable as a matter of federal constitutional law because the warrantless search and seizure of his garbage was impermissible as a matter of California law under Krivda,

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which he contends survived the state constitutional amendment, is without merit. The reasonableness of a search for Fourth Amendment purposes does not depend upon privacy concepts embodied in the law of the particular State in which the search occurred; rather, it turns upon the understanding of society as a whole that certain areas deserve the most scrupulous protection from government invasion. There is no such understanding with respect to garbage left for collection at the side of a public street. Pp. 43-44.

2. Also without merit is Greenwood's contention that the California constitutional amendment violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Just as this Court's Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule decisions have not required [108 S.Ct. 1627] suppression where the benefits of deterring minor police misconduct were overbalanced by the societal costs of exclusion, California was not foreclosed by the Due Process Clause from concluding that the benefits of excluding relevant evidence of criminal activity do not outweigh the costs when the police conduct at issue does not violate federal law. Pp. 44-45.

182 Cal.App.3d 729, 227 Cal.Rptr. 539, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 45. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue here is whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside the curtilage of a home. We conclude, in accordance with the vast majority of lower courts that have addressed the issue, that it does not.

I

In early 1984, Investigator Jenny Stracner of the Laguna Beach Police Department received information indicating that respondent Greenwood might be engaged in narcotics trafficking. Stracner learned that a criminal suspect had informed a federal drug enforcement agent in February, 1984, that a truck filled with illegal drugs was en route to the Laguna Beach address at which Greenwood resided. In addition, a neighbor complained of heavy vehicular traffic late at night in front of Greenwood's single-family home. The neighbor reported that the vehicles remained at Greenwood's house for only a few minutes.

Stracner sought to investigate this information by conducting a surveillance of Greenwood's home. She observed several vehicles make brief stops at the house during the late-night and early-morning hours, and she followed a truck from the house to a residence that had previously been under investigation as a narcotics trafficking location.

On April 6, 1984, Stracner asked the neighborhood's regular trash collector to pick up the plastic garbage bags that Greenwood had left on the curb in front of his house and to turn the bags over to her without mixing their contents with garbage from other houses. The trash collector cleaned his truck bin of other refuse, collected the garbage bags from the street in front of Greenwood's house, and turned the bags over to Stracner. The officer searched through the rubbish

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and found items indicative of narcotics use. She recited the information that she had gleaned from the trash search in an affidavit in support of a warrant to search Greenwood's home.

Police officers encountered both respondents at the house later that day when they arrived to execute the warrant. The police discovered quantities of cocaine and hashish during their search of the house. Respondents were arrested on felony narcotics charges. They subsequently posted bail.

The police continued to receive reports of many late-night visitors to the Greenwood house. On May 4, Investigator Robert Rahaeuser obtained Greenwood's garbage from the regular trash collector in the same manner as had Stracner. The garbage again contained evidence of narcotics use.

Rahaeuser secured another search warrant for Greenwood's home based on the information from the second trash search. The police found more narcotics and evidence of narcotics trafficking when they [108 S.Ct. 1628] executed the warrant. Greenwood was again arrested.

The Superior Court dismissed the charges against respondents on the authority of People v. Krivda, 5 Cal.3d 357, 486 P.2d 1262 (1971), which held that warrantless trash searches violate the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution. The court found that the police would not have had probable cause to search the Greenwood home without the evidence obtained from the trash searches.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. 182 Cal.App.3d 729, 227 Cal.Rptr. 539 (1986). The court noted at the outset that the fruits of warrantless trash searches could no longer be suppressed if Krivda were based only on the California Constitution, because, since 1982, the State has barred the suppression of evidence seized in violation of California law but not federal law. See Cal.Const., Art. I, § 28(d); In re Lance W., 37 Cal.3d 873, 694 P.2d 744 (1985). But Krivda, a decision binding on the Court of Appeal, also held that the fruits of warrantless trash searches were to be excluded under federal

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law. Hence, the Superior Court was correct in dismissing the charges against respondents. 182 Cal.App.3d at 735, 227 Cal.Rptr, at 542.1

The California Supreme Court denied the State's petition for review of the Court of Appeal's decision. We granted certiorari, 483 U.S. 1019, and now reverse.

II

The warrantless search and seizure of the garbage bags left at the curb outside the Greenwood house would violate the Fourth Amendment only if respondents manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in their garbage that society accepts as objectively reasonable. O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 715 (1987); California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207, 211 (1986); Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 177 (1984); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 361 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring). Respondents do not disagree with this standard.

They assert, however, that they had, and exhibited, an expectation of privacy with respect to the trash that was searched by the police: the trash, which was placed on the street for collection at a fixed time, was contained in opaque plastic bags, which the garbage collector was expected to pick up, mingle with the trash of others, and deposit at the garbage dump. The trash was only temporarily on the street, and there was little likelihood that it would be inspected by anyone.

It may well be that respondents did not expect that the contents of their garbage bags would become known to the police or other members of the public. An expectation of privacy does not give rise to Fourth Amendment protection,

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however, unless society is prepared to accept that expectation as objectively reasonable.

Here, we conclude that respondents exposed their garbage to the public sufficiently to defeat their claim to Fourth Amendment protection. It is common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left on or at the side of a public street are readily accessible to animals,2 children, scavengers,3 snoops,4 and other members of the public. See Krivda, 5 Cal.3d at 367, 486 P.2d at 1269. Moreover, respondents placed their refuse at the curb...

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