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Can police take evidence that is left outside without a warrant?

Police typically need a warrant to search your home and confiscate any items, as you have an expectation to privacy in your own home and a search without a warrant is illegal. There are some rare exceptions to this, such as when the police think a third party is in danger.

However, what about evidence that is not in your residence, but is nearby? Do they still need a warrant to take something that belongs to you?

Typically, they do not. They can argue that you didn't expect something that was left outside to remain private, and so they did not need a warrant to check out the item if it is of interest to the investigation.

For example, if you purchased drugs that you intended to sell, they could not come into a locked garage and take the drugs out of a closet. If you left the drugs on the picnic table in front of your house, though, police could investigate, as this doesn't technically count as a search. Something on an outdoor table, in plain view, was never meant to be private.

This is the same reason that the police can look in your trash bin if they'd like. This has sometimes been done when looking for incriminating documents and other small pieces of evidence that a person has tried to dispose of simply by throwing them away. Anything in the trash is fair game since you can't expect your trash will stay private and you have basically abandoned those items.

Do you think the police illegally searched your home or confiscated items they were not allowed to take? If so, you need to know your legal options in New Jersey.

Source: FindLaw, "Searches and Seizures: The Limitations of the Police," accessed May 24, 2016

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