The Bill of Rights states that you have the right to privacy from police searches of your home. In general, Des Moines police must get a search warrant from a judge before they can search the interior of your home and the immediate surroundings.
Over the years, courts have allowed a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement. But recently, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned one of these longstanding exceptions, restoring people’s right to privacy over their trash.
By a 4-3 vote, the court ruled that an individual’s trash “contains intimate and private details of life.” The majority opinion noted that searching through somebody’s garbage or recycling containers is illegal for a private citizen to do. Police doing the same thing without a valid search warrant therefore violates the Fourth Amendment rights of the residents who threw away the refuse, the court concluded.
Most states still allow trash searches without a warrant
This ruling puts Iowa in a minority of states that prohibit warrantless police garbage can searches. A total of seven states have ruled that their state constitutions give residents a greater right to privacy than the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1988 decision that the Constitution does not require police to get a warrant to search the trash outside of someone’s home.
Defending your right to privacy
Your right to privacy against warrantless police searches is highest at your home. It goes down when you go into public, but you always have some right to privacy. If the police violate your rights, there may not be anything you can do about it in the moment. But you and your defense attorney can bring police misconduct to the court’s attention, which might get the charges against your dropped.