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California v. (Verus) Greenwood: Did the United States Supreme Court Trash the Fourth Amendment?

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Journal Volume: 11 Issue: 1 Dated: (Fall-Winter 1988) Pages: 267-284
C H Manning
Date Published
18 pages
In California v. Greenwood, the U.S. Supreme Court, by refusing to extend fourth amendment protections to garbage left at the curb, failed to acknowledge American societal mores crucial to the protection of an individual's privacy.
The Court held that Greenwood had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the garbage bags themselves. Merely setting out the bags where they could be viewed by the public, however, did not divulge their contents to any member of the public; therefore, Greenwood retained his reasonable expectation of privacy as to the content. Greenwood did not voluntarily convey the contents of his garbage to the collector and assume the risk the collector would, in turn, reveal the contents to the police. Greenwood's presumption was that his sealed trash bag would remain closed, become co-mingled with the trash of others, and finally be deposited at the city dump. Further, there were no exigent circumstances that precluded the obtaining of a search warrant. If the police had probable cause to believe the garbage would be lost or destroyed by collection if they waited for a warrant before seizing it, the garbage bags could have been seized and searched under the exigent circumstances exception. The bags could also have been seized and held until such time as a search warrant could be obtained. In Greenwood's case, however, there were no exigent circumstances, since there was sufficient probable cause and time to get a warrant prior to the search. 127 footnotes.