United States v. Lyles (P)

Standing alone, the presence of three marijuana stems, three empty packs of rolling papers, and a piece of mail in the defendant’s curbside trash did not justify a sweeping warrant to search his home, and the district court properly suppressed evidence found there.

The trash from a home often will contain a variety of private items and effects. The fact that someone wishes to dispose of something does not mean he intends all others to have access to it. One need only imagine the discomfort of watching a neighbor or stranger sift through trash bags recently left at the curb. Because curbside trash is so readily accessible, trash pulls can be subject to abuse. Trash cans provide an easy way for anyone so moved to plant evidence. Guests leave their own residue which often ends up in the trash. Therefore, the open and sundry nature of trash requires that it be viewed with at least modest circumspection.

The evidence found here falls well short of the evidence in previous cases that upheld home search warrants based, in part, on trash pulls. The items in the trash made it possible, but not probable, that illegal drugs would be found in the home. Yet the warrant for search of the home was broad enough to permit the seizure of any computers, toiletries, or jewelry, and the search of every book, record, and document in the home. The connection of such things to the personal possession of marijuana is, to put it gently, tenuous.

Objectively speaking, what transpired here is not acceptable. What the court has before it is a flimsy trash pull that produced scant evidence of a marginal offense but that nonetheless served to justify the indiscriminate rummaging through a household. Law enforcement can do better.

Affirmed.

United States v. Lyles (P), No. 17-4787, Dec. 14, 2018. 4th Cir. (Wilkinson) from DMD at Greenbelt (Chuang).



Categories: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Opinions, Published

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