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United States v. Scott

Citation: 23 ELR 20199
No. No. 91-2289, 975 F.2d 927/(1st Cir., 09/22/1992)

The court holds that the Fourth Amendment does not protect the warrantless seizure and reconstruction of an individual's shredded documents found in abandoned trash bags left for curbside collection. The individual was charged with filing false federal income tax returns and had placed the shredded document fragments in trash bags for curbside collection. The court first holds that at the time the challenged evidence came into the hands of the authorities, it was public trash, irrespective of whether the defendant intended to keep secret the contents of the documents by shredding. The placing of trash bags for curbside collection is an intention to dispossess oneself of that material by abandonment, and implicit in the concept of abandonment is a renunciation of any reasonable expectation of privacy in the property abandoned. That the abandoned material was partially destroyed, although constituting evidence of the defendant's subjective desire or hope that the contents be unintelligible to third parties, does not change the fact that it was placed in the public domain. Rather than an invasion of constitutionally protected privacy, this is a failed attempt at secrecy by reason of underestimation of police resourcefulness, for which the U.S. Constitution provides no protection.

Counsel for Appellant
Mark W. Pearlstein, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
1107 J.W. McCormack Bldg., U.S. P.O. & Courthouse
Boston MA 02109
(617) 223-4353

Counsel for Appellee
Charles P. McGinty
Federal Defender's Office
125 Pearl St., 3d Fl., Boston MA 02110
(617) 565-8335

Before TORRUELLA and STAHL, Circuit Judges, and HORNBY,* District Judge.