The Supreme Court, rejecting claims that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy involving their garbage, ruled 6 to 2 yesterday that the Constitution does not require police to obtain a warrant to search trash left on a curb for pickup.

Acting in the case of two narcotics suspects from Laguna Beach, Calif., the court said the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement did not apply because "society is {not} prepared to accept" that the suspects could reasonably expect that their discarded trash was private.

Justice Byron R. White, writing for the court, said the suspects "exposed their garbage to the public sufficiently to defeat their claim to Fourth Amendment protection." White said the court's conclusion was the same as the "vast majority" of other federal courts on this issue.

Citing a reporter's "seizure" in 1975 of five bags of garbage in front of then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger's home here, White said it was "common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left on or at the side of a public street are readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops and other members of the public."

Justice William J. Brennan Jr., joined by Justice Thurgood Marshall in dissent, said the "scrutiny of another's trash is contrary to commonly accepted notions of civilized behavior.

"I suspect, therefore, that members of our society will be shocked to learn that the court, the ultimate guarantor of liberty, deems unreasonable our expectation that the aspects of our private lives that are concealed safely in a trash bag will not become public."

Brennan, citing Kissinger's comment that he was "really revolted" and general public disapproval of the action, said, "Most of us, I believe, would be incensed to discover a meddler -- whether a neighbor, a reporter or a detective -- scrutinizing our sealed trash containers to discover some detail of our personal lives."

Brennan said "the mere possibility that unwelcome meddlers might open and rummage through the containers does not negate the expectation of privacy in its contents any more than the possibility of a burglary negates the expectation of privacy in the home."

The case, California v. Greenwood, began in early 1984 when Laguna Beach police were tipped that a man named Billy Greenwood was dealing drugs. They staked out his home and saw numerous cars making brief stops there late at night.

Based on that and other information, police directed the neighborhood trash collector to keep Greenwood's bags separate and turn them over. Drug paraphernalia found in the trash served as the basis for a warrant issued to search the house, where drugs were found. Greenwood and an associate, Dyanne Van Houten, were arrested on drug charges and released on bail.

The same process was repeated a month later, and Greenwood again was arrested.

California courts dismissed the charges, finding warrantless trash searches unconstitutional and that police would not have had probable cause to search the home without evidence from the garbage.

White reversed the opinion, saying the suspects "could have had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the inculpatory items they discarded." Citing an earlier high court ruling, he said that "what a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection."

White was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Harry A. Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor and Antonin Scalia. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy did not participate in the decision.

In other action, the court:

Ruled 5 to 3 that federal prisoners have a Freedom of Information Act right to see most of the investigative reports prepared by the government for judges to consider at sentencing.

The ruling in U.S. Department of Justice v. Julian is only the second in about two dozen in which the high court has ruled in favor of someone requesting information under the act, according to Public Citizen attorney Eric Glitzenstein.

The ruling, the first against the government since 1976, saw a highly unusual coalition of the court's more liberal justices -- Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun and Stevens -- joining Rehnquist's opinion.

Declined to hear an appeal by former National Security Agency technician Ronald W. Pelton of his espionage conviction two years ago in Baltimore. The justices turned down Pelton's argument that the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was unconstitutional. Pelton was sentenced to three life terms plus 10 years.

Let stand an appeals court ruling that pregnant inmates have an Eighth Amendment right to free abortions if they cannot pay for them.

Prison officials in Monmouth, N.J., citing high court rulings that states did not have to fund abortions, argued that they were not required to fund non-therapeutic abortions. The appeals court said the inmates likely would win their claim that, given their circumstances, denial of such services would amount to a "deliberate indifference to a serious medical need."

The high court has said the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment obligates prisons to give inmates adequate medical care.