MINNEAPOLIS -- A Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling on whether police can compel someone to provide a fingerprint to get access to a smartphone is providing more clarity on the issue in the state.
The panel ruled a lower court judge’s order was constitutional, and did not violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
It is the first ruling of its kind in Minnesota, and only a few other courts have tackled the issue, because the technology is so new.
“That's what happens, you have new technologies and the courts react to those new technologies,” said Joe Tamburino, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis.
The case dates back to 2014, when the Chaska Police Department wanted to search Matthew Diamond's cell phone for evidence in a burglary and theft case. Diamond was later convicted on the charges.
He wanted the convictions thrown out, arguing that the warrant compelling him to produce a fingerprint to open the phone was unconstitutional. The three judge panel disagreed, finding the request was similar to that of a blood or handwriting sample.
"By being ordered to produce his fingerprint, however, Diamond was not required to disclose any knowledge he might have or to speak his guilt,” the court found.
Tamburino said the ruling could have wider implications, even for those not involved in a crime.
“Say all of a sudden, somebody's arrested two blocks away and they use their cell phone in the crime. And your phone number is on their phone, they're going to want to see what's on your phone, even if you had absolutely nothing to do with it.,” Tamburino said.
While police can obtain a warrant to get your fingerprints to access a phone, courts have ruled they cannot compel you to produce a passcode to unlock your phone.