Iowa bill would allow police officers to search garbage without warrant

garbage can
Posted at 2:11 PM, Mar 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-05 15:11:00-05

Iowa police officers would once again be allowed to search garbage cans without a warrant under a bill moving through the Iowa Legislature.

Senate File 2296 says Iowans have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” for garbage cans that are placed outside of the home in a “publicly accessible area.” That means a peace officer could search through a person’s garbage can on the curb without needing a search warrant.

The bill would stand in opposition to a 2021 Iowa Supreme Court decision that collecting evidence from the trash without a warrant was a violation of a person’s private property rights.

Law enforcement officers advocated for the bill.

Paul Fedderson, former assistant director of the Division of Narcotics Enforcement, told lawmakers the trash searches were useful for drug-related investigations. Police officers would search the garbage for “particles of drugs” and information about who is living in a residence, then use that information in pursuit of a warrant.

Adam DeCamp, special agent in charge with the Division of Criminal Investigation, said trash cans were often a way for criminals to dispose of evidence or weapons. He cited a 2013 homicide in Marshalltown, where police officers were informed of a potential murder and looked through the trash at a suspect’s house.

“The officers were able to jump onto the trash truck, go pick up the trash, look in the trash can and immediately see bloody clothes, body parts and teeth,” he said.

The officers used the evidence to obtain a warrant and make an arrest, DeCamp said.

The Iowa Association for Justice spoke against the proposal, arguing it would be unconstitutional – as the Supreme Court found it to be in 2021.

“The expectation of privacy is a constitutional issue,” said Lisa Davis-Cook, director of government affairs. “That can’t be undone by legislation.”

Davis-Cook anticipates the law, if passed, would be challenged in court. She predicted there’s “a very good chance” it would be overturned again.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously in late February to allow trash searches, and two members of a House subcommittee moved the bill Thursday. The bill awaits consideration by the House Judiciary Committee.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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