Better Call Saul: Legal No-Nos in Dumpster Diving Scene
We’re still catching up on our “Better Call Saul” TV watching. For those who haven’t seen this show, it’s about the hard-luck life of Saul Goodman, a funny, bumbling-yet-smart criminal defense lawyer played by actor Bob Odenkirk.
In my last post, I questioned why Saul let his client talk to the cops while Saul, client’s lawyer, was present (Better Call Saul: Would a Criminal Lawyer Really Do That?). In this current post, based on episode 8 in the series, I question Saul conducting a trash hit (AKA dumpster diving) in a case he’s representing.
Let’s start with an overview of trash hits.
What’s a Trash Hit?
In a nutshell, a trash hit refers to searching garbage for evidence. I happen to understand trash hits exceptionally well as, back when I was a private investigator, I conduct dozens of “hits,” typically for my attorney-clients. My wife, who co-owned the PI agency with me, also did her share of trash hits. Yep, we were a dumpster-diving couple. But don’t let the terms “trash hit” or “dumpster diving” fool you into thinking it’s a silly-sounding task — conducting this type of investigation cracked many cases for our lawyer-clients.
Although there were a few times when my wife and I had no choice but to expeditiously conduct a trash hit on the fly, typically we planned them carefully, such as:
- Confirming which day the subject’s trash was picked up
- Checking where the subject places the trash
- Checking the subject’s schedule on trash-pickup day
- Researching local ordinances about trash left outside on public property (although most municipalities view this as public property, there are some cities that have ordinances against trash recovery even if the trash bin is on public property)
- Preparing our gear (from covering the back of our vehicle with plastic to bringing working flashlights to what clothes we wore).
- Reviewing who does what on the trash hit (when both of us were working a trash hit together, we didn’t want to be tripping over each other when we got there so we’d determine ahead of time our roles…for example, I’d lift bags out of a dumpster to her that she’d put in the vehicle, or she’d go to trash can A and I’d go to B, and so on).
Saul’s Problematic Trash Hit
Now let’s look at what Saul did in episode 8 that had “trouble” written all over it:
He wasn’t prepared. At all.
Saul hopped into the dumpster, sputtered and coughed at the smell, then began grabbing and squeezing bags. He even propped open the dumpster lid for more air.
Problem: No matter how bad it smells, making a godawful racket only attracts attention that someone is mucking about in the trash. Also, how many bags did Saul plan to squeeze? That dumpster was loaded with trash bags! Much better to toss bags into your vehicle, then drive to a spot where trash can be carefully reviewed and documented.
Saul Magically Saw Through Trash Bags
In the show, they made it appear as if Saul would get a faint view through the plastic trash bag at the trash inside.
Problem: I’d love to have see-through-trashbag superpowers, but sorry, in years of trash hits I’ve never once been able to see through a generic white or black trash bag.
Sure, it was great fun seeing Saul thrash about in the trash, but…
Problem: When a lawyer conducts an investigation on a case that the lawyer is representing, he/she risks becoming a witness in that case. Why is that a problem? Lawyers’ code of ethics prohibits a lawyer being an advocate in a case where the lawyer may be called in as a witness.
What a witness sees and hears is similar to what a surveillance camera sees/records. In other words, what a witness sees or hears must be objective and untainted. Obviously, Saul being the lawyer representing the case means he is not an objective, untainted witness.
Brother Lawyer Suggests Trash Hit Is An Invasion of Privacy
Chuck, Saul’s whacky lawyer brother, questions if Saul’s trash hit is an invasion of privacy.
Problem: I found it odd that Chuck didn’t address the bigger, more critical issue: That Saul had potentially screwed up his ability to enter what was found in the trash as evidence.
It’s Still Our Favorite Show
Legalities and improbabilities aside, “Better Call Saul” is a fun, entertaining, thought-provoking show. I might find things to criticize, but hey, i’m a lawyer. I argue for a living. As a viewer, I look forward to Saul’s next adventure.
Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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