California V. Greenwood Case Study

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California v. Greenwood: Case Brief

California v. Greenwood established that items set out in a public space and which are available for the public to inspect are not granted the Fourth Amendment right to require a search warrant before searching or seizing that property.


Police Officers in Laguna Beach were conducting a drug trafficking investigation. The target of the investigation was Billy Greenwood. During this investigation the Laguna Beach Police Department asked the trash collector of Mr. Greenwood's trash to place it separately from the other trash they normally picked up. The police officers found evidence of drug use in the trash. They then used this evidence to obtain a search warrant, a legal document permitting the searching of property by police or the government, to search Mr. Greenwood's home. Once inside they found evidence of drug use and trafficking.
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Greenwood. Mr. Greenwood then posted bail, or a certain amount to be released from incarceration to insure court appearances, and was released from jail during the pendency of his criminal case. During this time the police received information that Mr. Greenwood was again using and selling drugs at his home. The police once again conducted a search of his trash and found evidence and received a second search warrant based on this evidence to search his home. Once inside they found more narcotics and Mr. Greenwood was arrested again.

The trial court, in this case the Superior Court, dismissed, or dropped, the charges against Mr. Greenwood stating that the warrantless searches of Mr. Greenwood's trash violated the protection from unreasonable search and seizure in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The government then appealed to the Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court, both courts denied the government's claims and the case was finally appealed the United States Supreme Court.

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