The Law School Authority

California v. Greenwood Case Brief

Summary of California v. Greenwood (1988)

Petitioner: State of California

Respondent: Mr. Greenwood; Greenwood was suspected of selling and using drugs in his house. A narcotic officer asked a trash man to bring her the trash bags which Greenwood had placed out on the street to be picked up. In those trash bags, the officer found drug paraphernalia which was used as evidence to convict Greenwood. The lower courts overturned the conviction by stating that the search of the trash bags without warrant violated the Fourth Amendment.

Issue: Katz Test: 1. Did the defendant have a subjective expectation of privacy in the trash bags? 2. Is the society ready to accept this expectation as reasonable?

Holding: 1. Yes 2. No

Key Facts: The trash bags were sealed up and they were plaque, so their content was not visible to the public. Also, Greenwood had placed the trash bags out on the street and that was beyond his curtilage. Curtilage=house, backyard, front yard, etc.

Legal Reasoning: The trash bags were placed out on the street and they were accessable to childern and animals. Greenwood could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the trash bags placed outside his curtilage where any animal or child can unseal and expose the content of the bags to the public. The court stated that “the police cannot reasonably be expected to avert their eyes from evidence of criminal activity that could have been observed by any member of the public.” So the court decided that even though Greenwood had subjective expectation of privacy in those bags, this privacy was not objectively reasonable.



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