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Jurisprudence Of Garbage
By Milton Hirsch
Fourth Amendment Forum columns.
Who steals my purse, we are told, steals trash.1 But he who steals my trash may steal something very valuable indeed. Long before the Information Age filled our garbage cans with data from which our identities could be stolen, our bank accounts pilfered, our medical needs revealed, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was encouraging his agents to obtain damning information about suspects and enemies by means of “trash pulls.”
The jurisprudence of garbage begins, for our purposes, with the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in California v. Greenwood.2 Greenwood, like millions of Americans, put his trash in plastic bags, put the bags in garbage cans, and lugged the cans down to the street (and therefore beyond his curtilage) for pick-up.3 The garbage was subsequently obtained by the police, who found in it evidence upon the basis of which they sought and obtained a search warrant for Greenwood’s home.4 Charged with narcotics offenses as a consequence of the ensuing search, Greenwood mo
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