Requiring Fingerprint to Unlock Smartphone OK, Minn. Court Rules

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By Jessica DaSilva

Requiring suspects to provide a fingerprint to open a smartphone doesn’t violate the constitutional right against self-incrimination, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Jan. 17.

The issue is one of first impression, not just for Minnesota, but for the nation. No high court has ever addressed the question, which could make the Minnesota ruling more persuasive in future cases.

Here, Matthew Vaughn Diamond refused to provide a fingerprint to unlock his mobile phone before being ordered by the court.

The order required “only physical evidence from Diamond’s body and did not reveal the contents of his mind,” so no Fifth Amendment violation occurred, Associate Justice Margaret H. Chutich wrote for the court.

Use of Diamond’s fingerprint was therefore more like a test to gather physical characteristics, such as taking a blood sample, a voice exemplar, or standing in a lineup, the court said.

And no mental process would be required to provide a fingerprint—unlike providing an access code, which would require memory and the physical act of typing in the number.

The fingerprint was therefore “non-testimonial” evidence, not protected by the Fifth Amendment. Evidence collected from Diamond’s phone could therefore be used in his criminal prosecution, the court held.

The case is State v. Diamond , 2018 BL 14515, Minn., A15-2075, 1/17/18 .

To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica DaSilva in Washington at jdasilva@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bloomberglaw.com

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