California v. Krivda
Decided on Oct. 24, 1972; 409 US 33

Police arrest someone after finding illegal narcotics in his curbside trash


A. Issues Discussed: 4th Amendment, 14th Amendment, search and seizure, search warrants

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the California Supreme Court base its holding on the 4th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, or upon an equivalent provision of the California Constitution, or both.

A. Background:

In 1984, Laguna Beach Police Department recieved information that respondents Greenwood, et. al, might be engaged in narcotics trafficking.  Seeking to investigate this information, officer Stacner asked the neighborhood's trash collector to pick up the plastic garbage bags that Greenwood had left on the curb in front of his house and to turn the bags over to her without mixing their contents with trash from other houses.  The trash collector did what officer Stacner requested. Upon searching the trash, Stacner found narcotic contraband.  She used this finding to obtain a warrant to search Greenwood's residence.  Later that day, police discovered marijuana and cocaine inside Respondents' home.

Respondents were charged with possession of marijuana in violation of section 11530 of the California Health and Safety Code.  At trial, the state superior court judge ordered dismissal of the case and for the suppression of all evidence on the grounds that, under the circumstances of this case, respondents "had a reasonable expectation that their trash would not be rummaged through and picked over by police officers acting without a search warrant." The Supreme Court of California affirmed the superior court's judgment.  Petitioner claimed California's Supreme Court based its ruling on the federal constitution, as opposed to its state's constitution, and sought review in the US Supreme Court. The high court granted certiorari to review the case. 
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Roger S. Hanson argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was George R. Milman
Russell Iungerich argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief were Evelle J. Younger, Edward A. Hinz, Jr., William E. James, S. Clark Moore, and William R. Pounders.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
"The exclusionary rule derives from the Constitution and not solely from the Court's supervisory power. Thus the rule compels the Court to shun knowing collaborations in the deprivation of constitutional rights, regardless of how inadvertent the initial violation of rights may have been. Citizens are assured that whatever improprieties occur on behalf of the executive branch of government, the courts will not participate in furthering the injury.

Deterrence is effected by rendering conviction on the basis of illegally seized evidence impossible. Recent evidence shows that as police departments become more professional, conviction rates become a more significant index of success in police work. The exclusionary rule has encouraged and continues to encourage the trend toward professionalization of the police. Without the absolute exclusion of illegally seized evidence, police will be encouraged by the dictates of efficiency to ignore constitutional values.

The 'substantial violation' rule proposed by Petitioners in Krivdan as a substitute for the exclusionary rule would impugn the integrity of the courts and would substantially eviscerate the deterrent effect of the current rule. Measured against Petitioner's own criticisms of the exclusionary rule, the 'substantial violation' rule would exacerbate the difficulties police and courts have and would have under the exclusionary rule. Furthermore, the 'substantial violation' rule would turn court attention from the protection of the individual's rights to a determination of the fault of the police, thus putting the police on trial rather than the defendant...

Petitioner's suggestion that exclusionary rule claims be made unavailable to state prisoners seeking federal habeas corpus relief would wreak havoc with this Court's precedential development of the Great Writ. Nor are the causes of judicial integrity or deterrence served by this illogical distinction between collateral attack and direct appeal. The principal impact of such a distinction would be to deprive most state criminal defendants of a federal forum for adjudication of their federal rights, thereby undermining what even severe critics agree is a primary benefit of the exclusionary rule." – ACLU brief in California v. Krivda
"The respondents' acts of (1) discarding the trash into their trash barrels and (2) then placing the trash barrels on the parkway for collection unambiguously demonstrated the requisite intent to abandon. It is well established that 'There can be nothing unlawful in the Government's appropriation of abandoned property...'

[T]he respondents had no 'reasonable expectation of privacy' either as to the location of the search or as to the items seized from the trash. The well of a trash truck parked a block away from respondents' home is not within those areas immediately adjacent to the home which are protected by the Fourth Amendment. After the barrels were placed on the parkway, their contents were subject to numerous risks of public exposure. Respondents had also given the trash collector such complete and unrestricted control over their trash that they may be said to have accepted the risk that he might permit the police to examine the contents of their trash barrels. The Fourth Amendment does not protect a wrongdoer's misplaced belief that a person to whom he confides his wrongdoing will not reveal it. There is no indication that society generally expects garbage to remain private after it has come to rest in the well of a trash truck. To extend Fourth Amendment protection to the trash abandoned by respondents would elevate the trash barrel to the status of a constitutional sanctuary for the concealment and disposal of evidence of crime...

[T]his case raises the issue of whether the exclusionary rule should have any application to the type of police conduct involved here. The law at the time of the search clearly permitted the appropriation of abandoned property. The exclusionary rule should not be used to discipline police officers who have attempted to act within the constitutional. limits of the Fourth Amendment. The entire deterrent rationale of the exclusionary rule is open to serious question which may require its abandonment. Short of a complete reconsideration of the wisdom of retaining the exclusionary rule, petitioner proposes that the rule be limited to flagrant violations of the Fourth Amendment where the conduct of the police is truly lawless."
Petitioner brief in California v. Krivda
Opposing Side
Richard E. Posell, A. L. Wirin, Fred Oakrand, Lawrence R. Sperber, Heathcote W. Wales, Melvin L. Wulf, Sanford J. Rosen, and Joel M. Gora filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Another brief of amicus curiae urging affirmance was filed by Sheldon Portman, and Rose Elizabeth Bird for California Public Defenders Association.
Briefs as amicus curiae urging reversal were filed by William J. Scott, and James B. Zagel for the State of Illinois; Frank G. Carrington, Jr. Alan S. Ganz, Glen Murphy, Wayne W. Schimidt for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc.


"In reaching its result in this case, the California court cited pertinent excerpts from its earlier decision in People v. Edwards (1969), which relied specifically upon both the state and federal provisions. Thus, as in Department of Mental Hygiene Dept. v. Kirchner (1965), 'while we might speculate from the choice of words used in the opinion, and the authorities cited by the court, which provision was the basis for the judgment of the state court, we are unable to say with any degree of certainty that the judgment of the California Supreme Court was not based on an adequate and independent nonfederal ground.' We therefore vacate the judgment of the Supreme Court of California and remand the cause to that court for such further proceedings as may be appropriate. We intimate to view on the merits of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment issue presented."
Justice Vote: 0 Pro vs. 9 Con
Per Curium Decision (no individual authorship of opinion)
  • Burger, W.  Con
  • Douglas, W.  Con
  • Brennan, W.  Con
  • Stewart, P.  Con
  • White, B.  Con
  • Marshall, T.  Con
  • Blackmun, H.  Con
  • Powell, L.  Con
  • Rehnquist, W.  Con

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the ruling of the California Supreme Court in a per curiam decision, giving the ACLU an apparent loss