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Court: Police can't rummage through garbage without warrant

The Oregon Supreme Court disagreed with more than 50 years of state case law by ruling that Oregonians retain a privacy interest in the garbage they leave on the curb for pick-up.

Posted: May 10, 2019 3:25 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court disagreed with more than 50 years of state case law by ruling that Oregonians retain a privacy interest in the garbage they leave on the curb for pick-up.

That means police can't simply rummage through it even after a truck hauls it away.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the court wrote on Thursday that the state's residents have a reasonable expectation that after they leave their trash in opaque bins covered with a lid, no one will inspect it without a warrant.

"In our view ... most Oregonians would consider their garbage to be private and deem it highly improper for others — curious neighbors, ex-spouses, employers, opponents in a lawsuit, journalists, and government officials, to name a few — to take away their garbage bin and scrutinize its contents," Justice Lynn Nakamoto wrote in her 6-1 majority opinion.

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Tracy Lynn Lien and Travis Allen Wilverding, who shared a home and were convicted of methamphetamine dealing after police from the 16,000-resident city of Lebanon asked the community's garbage hauling company, Republic Services, to pick up and set aside the contents of the pair's garbage on collection day in 2014.

Police then dug through that trash, found evidence of drug activity and got a warrant to search the home. That led to the convictions.

The high court found that police had violated the Oregon Constitution's protection against unreasonable searches because Lien and Wilverding had privacy interests in their trash and because the garbage hauling company acted as "an agent" of police by collecting the trash for a detective.

In setting aside their convictions, the Supreme Court reversed earlier decisions by then-Linn County Circuit Judge Daniel Murphy in 2014 and the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2017.

The ruling clashes with all or part of past rulings by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1968 and 2007, when the high court OK'd warrantless searches of trash collected by motel maids or curbside garbage haulers. In both of those cases, what police found led to drug convictions for the suspects.

The majority opinion noted that even the U.S. Supreme Court has said Americans don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy "in trash left for collection in an area accessible to the public." But the U.S. Supreme Court also said individual states are free to impose "more stringent constraints on police" based on their own constitutions.

Thursday's ruling applies to curbside refuse collected from private homes. It doesn't appear to apply to trash thrown in public garbage cans in public places. It's unclear how the ruling might affect residents of condominiums or apartments, where trash is thrown in communal bins.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 387485

Reported Deaths: 5116
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah59768836
Washington41571393
Marion39592504
Clackamas32426376
Lane29856354
Jackson24672350
Deschutes23182185
Umatilla15087180
Linn14488178
Douglas13236286
Josephine10057240
Yamhill9665142
Klamath8979145
Polk813698
Benton605137
Malheur591586
Coos5573106
Columbia423855
Jefferson416865
Lincoln357252
Union336854
Crook330156
Wasco314846
Clatsop258335
Baker217531
Tillamook214345
Hood River211337
Morrow197025
Curry190136
Harney119332
Grant108314
Lake104016
Wallowa74713
Sherman1903
Gilliam1844
Wheeler1141
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 5060666

Reported Deaths: 74152
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles152491227121
San Diego4047084319
Riverside3849455306
San Bernardino3718825944
Orange3329505675
Sacramento1674002423
Kern1565171781
Fresno1558992246
Santa Clara1511691922
Alameda1246581504
San Joaquin1070001833
Ventura1036461188
Contra Costa1032921045
Stanislaus912991413
Tulare856141082
San Francisco56614669
San Mateo56058629
Monterey52340625
Solano47422356
Santa Barbara47035548
Merced44807664
Sonoma42912412
Placer41881468
Imperial38128769
Kings35038358
San Luis Obispo31294358
Madera26005311
Shasta25917440
Butte25295309
Santa Cruz22028222
Yolo21451257
Marin18342248
El Dorado18166161
Sutter14494181
Napa13372104
Yuba1070088
Tehama10230129
Humboldt10043117
Nevada9914103
Mendocino848894
Lassen792355
San Benito775977
Tuolumne767790
Lake6990110
Amador573766
Siskiyou470954
Glenn455136
Calaveras435685
Del Norte371242
Colusa323519
Inyo254345
Plumas19127
Mono18294
Mariposa156718
Trinity98817
Modoc7475
Unassigned2430
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