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Fingerprinting without Probable Cause (state of Michigan)

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jun 21, 2023 | 0 Comments

In July 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court declared the “photographing and fingerprinting” procedure as unconstitutional with applying the 4th Amendment, a tactic that the Grand Rapids Police Department had been doing for over a decade and violated two young Black boys.

Yeah, what am I talking about exactly? Essentially, police officers would operate fingerprinting on-site on citizens without probable cause despite complete cooperation when initially questioned. It went on for a very long time in a city that is predominantly white but targeted mostly Black individuals, and it's a different approach law enforcement has taken to stop and search without legality.

There are two cases that were scoping on this issue, and here are the complete stories on this link to read: Supreme Court: Fingerprinting without criminal charges unconstitutional (

Even though both Harrison and Johnson were released and not charged for these initial situations, these were unreasonable search and seizures. Identification information obtained by police officers have historically been conducted illegally and enforced with violence, whether physical, psychological, or technological. The right to privacy and not violated by search and seizure has not been promising for many Black Americans as having been disproportionately intruded by law enforcement. For more precedence, learning about the Stop-and-Frisk Program operated by the New York Police Department that was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court is a great start.

More commentary from ACLU on Stop-and-Fingerprint:

The unconstitutional fingerprinting program widens the disparities even further for young people of color, who are less likely to be carrying an ID because they aren't old enough to drive, can't afford an ID, or rely on public transit and so have no need for one. Subjecting these young people to unconstitutional fingerprinting and storing their identifying data in a police database is stigmatizing, traumatizing, and increases the chances of police interactions in the future (2021).

These cases that were held against the police officers (Captain Curtis Vanderkooi and officer Elliott Bargas from the Grand Rapids Police Department) who had conducted the unreasonable search and seizures amongst the two teenagers were appealed and resulted in the city of Grand Rapids not being held reliable due to its policy only allowed, but did not require, the police to take photographs and fingerprints—a decision that would make it much harder to hold municipalities accountable for civil rights violations in state court. ACLU took intervention in future appeals and in 2022, was able to get the decision on the cases reversed with fingerprinting as a form of search of seizure, unconstitutional.

The main concern of discussion is how biometric information can be easily retracted and adapted into procedures by those that “protect and serve.” Exceeding the scope of a Terry stop had been a practice the department was mundane to, even though it was prohibited after a certain point. This information can be accessed for future curiosity and lead to consequences of those directly affected into deeper trouble. It was intentional that “stop-and-fingerprinting” was demonstrated onto young Black boys that had given no suspicion that was not meant to be punished for. I am in hopes that the city of Grand Rapids and the State of Michigan retracts the policy of what is and is not required for law enforcement as well as how it would apply to future civil lawsuits.

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