Local narcotics detectives are not jumping up and down with glee over a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows them to search through garbage bags set out at the curb.
But the investigative technique is not being trashed either.Lt. Marty Vuyk of the multi-agency Metropolitan Narcotics Strike Force said his squad does not regularly employ garbage espionage.
"It's not a common practice to run to someone's house and go through their trash to find evidence," Vuyk said. "We've got enough other things we can be doing. Most of our cases are developed by far better means that that."
A few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, ruled that Laguna Beach, Calif., police did not violate the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches when they obtained a search warrant for a home after finding evidence of cocaine in garbage bags set out at the curb by the residents.
Those residents were later charged with possession of narcotics.
A California trial court dismissed the case, holding that the search warrant was improperly obtained because the search of the garbage bags was an invasion of privacy. A California appeals court upheld the dismissal.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, said the narcotics suspects "exposed their garbage to the public sufficiently to defeat their claim to Fourth Amendment protection. It is common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left on or at the side of public street are readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops and other members of the public."
Capt. Darrell Brady, who heads the Salt Lake County sheriff's narcotics division, lauded the top court's decision, saying, "It's common sense. If you drive down the road and see an empty milk carton on the road, you can pick it up, can't you?"
The captain argued that the same should be allowed for police searching for contraband in a pile of rubbish.
But, he said, "It would have to be a rare occasion that we'd go looking through garbage.
"Our guys aren't crazy about it. There's cleaner ways of getting to the drug dealers - like hanging out amongst them."