In part 4 of my series on Forensic Genealogy, we look at what is happening in Iowa.
The Iowa Supreme Court, in a 4-3 split, decided on June 18, 2021, to ban police from searching the people’s uncollected trash without a warrant.
In doing so they outlawed a decades old investigative technique. The Justices said that the officers in this case before them conducted an unreasonable search and seizure under the Iowa Constitution when they searched for evidence of crimes in the trash that people left outside for collection.
In other words, in Iowa, the abandonment doctrine related to garbage, no longer applies. The abandonment doctrine means that there is no expectation of privacy in abandoned materials such as discarded items in trash cans in public places or restaurants. The same counts for trash containers or garbage bags set at the curb ready for pick up.
In several states, it is possible for police to check discarded items such as trash to retrieve an item and to compare DNA. The same method has been used in other countries, just read up on the case of Colette Aram.
I wonder what the effect of State v. Wright, a case about drugs, is going to be for forensic genealogy. “The tactic amounts to an unconstitutional trespass on private property and violates citizens’ expectations of privacy, especially in cities that have ordinances barring residents from accessing others’ trash” Justice Christopher McDonald wrote for the majority adding that “garbage contains intimate and private details of life.”
Dissenting justices said that people no longer have any expectations of privacy when they put trash out at the curb or discard items in trash bins. But with “Friday’s ruling, Iowa joins a small number of other states that have limited trash searches by holding that their state constitutions provide greater protections than the U.S. Constitution against warrantless searches. They include Oregon, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, New Mexico and New Jersey, according to Friday’s decision and news reports.”
In many old, unsolved cases, a break in the investigation often hinges on comparing DNA from the original crime scene with a suspect after this person was found through forensic genealogy. Privacy issues need to be addressed. Decisions like these from the Iowa Supreme Court, will have an impact. It is time to discuss and create federal regulations.