A new ruling states that criminal defendants can be compelled to give up their fingerprints, but not a pass code in allowing police to search a cellphone. The issue arose during the case of David Baust, who was charged with trying to strangle his girlfriend.
Prosecutors had said video equipment in Baust’s bedroom may have recorded the couple’s fight and, if so, the video could be on his cellphone. They wanted a judge to force Baust to unlock his phone, but Baust’s attorney, James Broccoletti, argued pass codes are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits forced self-incrimination.
Judge Steven C. Frucci ruled this week that giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits. A pass code, though, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against, according to Frucci’s written opinion.
According to Judge Steven C. Fucci, while a criminal defendant can’t be compelled to hand over a passcode to police officers for the purpose of unlocking a cellular device, law enforcement officials can compel a defendant to give up a fingerprint.
With this power, the police can search a cellphone. What one person may think is innocent, the police might find cause for concern. That cute photograph of your child taking a bath could be construed as child pornography. A judge may later see it as the innocent picture it was meant to be, but you have now been fingerprinted, photographed and jailed. You’re innocent, but you may have already lost your job, reputation, family and friends.