One Person’s Junk May Be One Person’s Treasure but First Not Without a Search Warrant in Oregon

The Oregon Supreme Court last month overturned five decades of case-law to the contrary by ruling Oregonians retain privacy interests in the garbage they leave on the curb for pick up.

In short, if it’s an opaque bin and the lid is sealed than no one can look inside including law enforcement and waste management employees without a warrant.

This is a huge win for privacy groups in the 6-1 decision.

Justice Lynn Nakamoto wrote in her majority opinion, “[i]n 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.”

The case stems from the unlawful search of garbage that lead to the convictions of two people who shared a residence in Lebanon for delivery of methamphetamine.  The Oregon Supreme Court ruled law enforcement violated Oregon’s Constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures because the defendants had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their trash.  And that the garbage removal company in the case were acting as ‘agents’ of the state by collecting the trash at the behest of a police officer.

Not only does the ruling overturn fifty plus years of case-law in Oregon but it also places greater restrictions on law enforcement than the United States Constitution which currently holds an individual does not have an expectation in curbside trash.  

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