Court: Police need search warrant for motel trash

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico police need a warrant to search garbage placed in a motel dumpster, the state’s highest court ruled Monday.

In a 3-2 decision, the state Supreme Court made clear the New Mexico Constitution offers broader protections against unreasonable searches than the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

The court’s majority said the federal constitution would allow police to freely search garbage left out for collection, but probable cause and a warrant is necessary in New Mexico – even for trash discarded in a dumpster outside of a motel.

Justices Petra Jimenez Maes and Charles Daniels dissented.

Maes wrote that a warrantless search by police should be allowed because there’s “no expectation of privacy in one’s garbage disposed of in an open dumpster on commercial property.”

The Supreme Court had ruled in 2006 that a search warrant is necessary for garbage placed on the curb outside of a residence.

In its latest ruling, the court rejected arguments that privacy protections should be different for someone who disposes of garbage in a “shared trash receptacle” such as a commercial dumpster.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Barbara Vigil, the court said there’s “no difference in a person’s expectation of privacy in garbage that is generated by the occupant of a private residence and the occupant of a temporary dwelling such as a motel room.”

Justices Richard Bosson and Edward Chavez concurred in the majority ruling.

The ruling came in a case from Clovis involving Kevyn Crane, who was charged with drug trafficking and possession of drug paraphernalia in 2008.

A motel guest called police about a strong chemical odor coming from the room where Crane was staying. After police saw another man from the room discard a box in the dumpster, they searched it and found two sealed black garbage bags containing evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing.

Police then obtained a search warrant for the motel room, but a district court said none of the evidence could be used by prosecutors because of the illegal search of the dumpster.


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