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Michigan Supreme Court hears arguments in Grand Rapids stop, fingerprint, and photo policy case

Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio

Updated: 11/9/2021 at 5:44 p.m.:

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit challenging a Grand Rapids police policy. It allows police officers to fingerprint and photograph people they’re questioning who don’t have an ID.

The nearly 10-year-old challenge was filed by two Black men who were teenagers when they were stopped, questioned, and released without being charged.

The lawsuit says the policy violates the 4th Amendment’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The attorney for Grand Rapids said there was no expectation of privacy and striking down the policy would make it harder to investigate crimes and suspected crimes.

But Dan Korobkin of the ACLU said there are privacy rights – even in public places.

“And there’s no question that fingerprinting something is not something that a casual observer walking down the street can do to you or you would have a reasonable expectation that they would do to you.”

The ACLU says fingerprinting and taking photos in the field is not only a privacy violation, but keeping those records on file also violates constitutional rights.

A decision in the case is expected by early July.

Original post: 10/25/2021 at 6:21 p.m.:

The Michigan Supreme Court has announced the cases it will hear during its November oral arguments. One is a civil rights challenge to a controversial Grand Rapids Police Department policy.

The plaintiffs in this combined case are two young African-Americans who were stopped, photographed and fingerprinted under a city policy that allows police officers to do that when subjects they want to question don’t have IDs.

ACLU of Michigan attorney Dan Korobkin says that violates the 4th Amendment. And he says it’s typically been used against teens and minorities who are stopped, but never charged with anything.

“The issue here is why do the police really need to be out there on the street taking people’s photographs and fingerprints just on the side of the road?” he said.

“We don’t know of any other police department in Michigan that goes around taking people’s fingerprints and photographs on the side of the road like this, and it’s a serious invasion of people’s constitutional right to privacy.”

Korobkin says it’s a privacy violation because it leaves the department with a database of photos and fingerprints of people who’ve never been accused of a crime.
A spokesman for the city said he was not able to comment on the case because he had only recently become aware of it.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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