Compelling Criminal Defendant to Provide Fingerprint to Unlock Cellphone Did Not Violate Self-Incrimination Privilege

A recent Minnesota Court of Appeals case of first impression in that State has established that compelling a criminal defendant to provide a fingerprint to unlock his cellphone does not violate the Fifth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. V,  privilege against compelled self-incrimination.

On October 30, 2014, the homeowner left her house between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m. to run errands. Upon return around noon, she noticed that the attached garage's side-entry door appeared to have been kicked in from the outside. The police were called after a safe, a laptop, and several items of jewelry were missing from her home. While waiting for police to arrive, the homeowner found an envelope in her driveway that had the name of S.W. written on it. Police took photographs and measurements of the shoeprints left on the garage's side-entry door.

Detective Nelson of the Chaska Police Department used state databases to determine S.W.'s car model and license plate number and that S.W. had pawned several pieces of jewelry at a Shakopee pawn shop on October 30. M.H. later verified that the pawned jewelry was stolen from her home. On November 4, police located S.W.'s car, which defendant Matthew Vaughn Diamond was driving at the time. Diamond was arrested on an outstanding warrant unrelated to the case. He was booked at the Scott County jail, where staff collected and stored his property, including his shoes and cellphone.

The following day, Detective Nelson went to the jail and viewed the property that was taken from Diamond. Detective Nelson observed similarities between the tread of Diamond's shoes and the shoeprints left on the garage's side-entry door. Detective Nelson informed the jail staff that she was going to seek a warrant to seize Diamond's property and gave instructions not to release the property to anyone. Later that day, S.W. attempted to collect Diamond's property but was told that it could not be released.

Detective Nelson obtained and executed a search warrant for Diamond’s shoes and cellphone.  An additional warrant was obtained to search the contents of the cellphone, but Detective Nelson was unable to unlock it.  The State filed a motion to compel Diamond to provide his fingerprint on the cellphone to unlock it.  After Diamond was held in contempt for refusing to comply, he eventually provided a fingerprint and police immediately searched his cellphone.

Evidence from the phone established that Diamond and S.W. exchanged phone calls and text messages throughout the day of the burglary and that Diamond’s cellphone pinged off cell towers near the burglarized residence on the day of the burglary.  Other evidence included the tread pattern on Diamond’s seized shoes being similar to the shoeprints found near the garage’s side-entry door.  The jury found Diamond guilty of second-degree burglary, misdemeanor theft, and fourth-degree criminal damage to property following a jury trial.

On appeal, Diamond contended that the district court’s order compelling him to provide his fingerprint to unlock his cellphone violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals held, however, that by being ordered to produce his fingerprint, Diamond was not required to disclose any knowledge he might have or to speak his guilt.  The court distinguished the case from those requiring a defendant to decrypt a hard drive or produce a combination or password--all of which involve a level of knowledge and mental capacity that was not present in ordering Diamond to place his fingerprint on his cellphone. Instead, the task that Diamond was compelled to perform--to provide his fingerprint--was no more testimonial than furnishing a blood sample, providing handwriting or voice exemplars, standing in a lineup, or wearing particular clothing.

As such, because the order compelling Diamond to produce his fingerprint to unlock the cellphone did not require a testimonial communication, the order did not violate his Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination.

Lexis subscribers can access the opinion at: State v. Diamond, 2017 Minn. App. LEXIS 9 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 17, 2017)

Lexis Advance subscribers can find the opinion at: State v. Diamond, 2017 Minn. App. LEXIS 9 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 17, 2017)

Author:  Gabriela N. Nolen, Lexis-Nexis Case Law Editor


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