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Small Amount of Trashed Pot Enough Probable Cause for Home Search

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 16, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What can you get from two marijuana roaches with leftover weed, blunt paper, cigarillo wrappers, and 2 baggie knots pulled from the trash? No, it's not the worst Christmas present ever -- it's probable cause!

A few scraps of marijuana and paraphernalia recovered after searching through thirteen -- thirteen! -- bags of trash weren't the evidence of crack dealing that cops sought, but they were enough to support a warrant to search the house, the Eighth Circuit ruled on Monday.

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure

A report that Shaquandis Thurmond of Cedar Rapids was selling crack lead police to do a "trash pull," searching through the trash in the alleyway behind Thurmond's residence. They saw no evidence of crack dealing among the trash, nor when surveilling the house, but they did manage to find the discarded paraphernalia. A field test was positive for THC. Two days later, the police executed a warrant to search Thurmond's home, finding an unregistered shotgun along with more weed and weed accoutrements. Thurmond was charged with possession of an unregistered firearm.

Thurmond argued that the de minimus amount of marijuana prevented a finding of probable cause and that the delay, of two days, from the trash pull to the home search extinguished any probable cause that might have existed.

Yes, the Police Can Search Your Home Over a Roach

To find probable cause for a search warrant, there must be enough facts to show a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found. Thurmond had argued that the small amounts of weed and associated items were evidence of, at most, a single, nonrecurring crime. Under this logic, no one would expect there to be evidence of a crime inside a house, when such a small amount of marijuana stuffs were found spread throughout such a large amount of trash.

Not so, said the court. Under the Circuit's holdings in Briscoe and Allebach, drug related items found in a trash pull create sufficient PC. Though one could distinguish those precedents based on the quantity and quality of the items found, here the Court ruled that the amount found in Thurmond's trash was sufficient.

What About That Crack?

Did it matter that Thurmond wasn't a crack dealer, as the initial tip had claimed? Nope, the Court noted in a footnote, since the bits in the trash were sufficient on their own -- the cops did not need to rely on the tip to find cause to search.

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