Originally posted in the Willamette Week (Portland, Oregon) and recently updated (https://www.wweek.com/portland/article-1616-rubbish.html-2), journalists dove into a messy fourth amendment situation. With information that law enforcement officials were collecting trash of suspect individuals without their permission, reporters for the Willamette Week took out trash of their own law enforcement officials in search of a bright line for Fourth Amendment reasonableness property seizures.
Police routinely collect trash of suspected individuals without a warrant, known as ‘garbage pulls.’ Their objective is to rummage through a suspect’s refuse for nefarious clues to justify further searches and potential search warrants for homes. Prosecutors have regularly argued that placing your garbage can out in the open, open to public view, in the public right of way relinquishes your privacy, possessory interest for what is found inside.
Personal and business correspondence, photographs, personal financial information, political mail, items related to health concerns and sexual practices are all routinely found in garbage receptacles. While most law enforcement officials endorse the notion that you abandon your privacy when you set your trash out on the curb, many law abiding citizens feel these acts are dirty.
Enter the Willamette journalists willing to dumpster dive into the lives of their own law enforcement officials:
Police Chief Kroeker, a trash abandons privacy proponent, had his trash presented in person, to which he replied, “[t]his is very cheap,” and cut short his interview. The Mayor was next. She not only wanted her trash back, but also the name of the paper’s attorney. The only official not to turn his nose up at the garbage pull smell was Willamette County District Attorney Mike Schrunk, who playfully asked whether he had to pay for his next trash collection.
Willamette Week asks a very good question: “[i]f three moral, upstanding, public-spirited citizens were each chewing their nails about the secrets we might have stumbled on, how the hell should the rest of us be feeling?
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