Whether police need a search warrant for something like a garbage can generally depends on whether you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place or thing being searched.
When it comes to garbage, your expectation of privacy can depend on where the trash is located. If your garbage is awaiting pick up in the alley, police will likely have a right to investigate. If your garbage was still within “the curtilage” of your home, however, police may first need a warrant.
Generally, police cannot enter a private residence unless they have emergency or exigent circumstances, consent or a warrant. The curtilage of your home is included in this Fourth Amendment protection. The curtilage is defined as the land immediately surrounding and associated with your home. The scope of the curtilage is generally determined by whether you reasonably expect the area to be treated like your home. For example, the area within your fenced-in yard would be a curtilage. The case law in this area is complex and depends a great deal on the specific facts of each situation.
Therefore, if your garbage was still in your garage or next to your back door, the police may require a warrant before they can poke through it. (However, if the police are otherwise lawfully within the curtilage of your home and happen to see something in plain view, they can investigate the object.)
This protection in garbage applies even if you are a guest in someone’s home. Therefore, if you are staying at a friend’s and you threw contraband in their garbage, you have a privacy expectation until about the point the garbage is set outside for pick up.
If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
See People v Kofron.
(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)