Court Upholds Forced Unlock of Man’s Cellphone

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – A Minnesota court did not violate a man’s Fifth Amendment right when it required him to provide his fingerprint to unlock his cellphone, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Matthew Vaughn Diamond appealed second-degree burglary, theft and criminal damage convictions after he was found guilty in May 2015 of breaking into a woman’s home and stealing a safe, laptop and several items of jewelry. Diamond was sentenced to 51 months in prison for the second-degree burglary and to 90 days in jail for the fourth-degree criminal damage to property.

Diamond appealed his conviction based on Carver County District Court’s order requiring him to provide his fingerprint to access information on his cellphone, arguing that it violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Once the cellphone was unlocked police obtained incriminating evidence, according to the 17-page opinion.

At issue was whether the requirement of Diamond to produce his fingerprint to unlock his cellphone was “testimonial communication” because police found incriminating evidence once the cellphone was unlocked.

Diamond cited In re Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum, in which the court was asked whether a defendant should be required to decrypt and produce the contents of a computer’s hard drive, even when it is unknown if documents exist. In that case, the court concluded that such a requirement “is analogous to requiring production of a combination and that such a production involves factual statements that could potentially incriminate,” the opinion states.

But the Minnesota appeals court unanimously found requiring Diamond to produce his fingerprint is not the same because he was not required to disclose any knowledge he might have had or to talk about his guilt.

“Those requirements involve a level of knowledge and mental capacity that is not present in ordering Diamond to place his fingerprint on his cellphone,” the opinion states. “Instead, the task that Diamond was compelled to perform – to provide his fingerprint – is no more testimonial than furnishing a blood sample, providing handwriting or voice exemplars, standing in a lineup, or wearing particular clothing.”

Diamond’s argument is a first for the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the opinion states.

There have been several similar cases across the nation, including a case in Virginia where an appeals court upheld in 2015 that man accused of selling marijuana could not suppress incriminating text messages that were found by police during a warrantless search of his cellphone.

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