from because-of-course-it’s department

The only surprise in this decision is not that the court ruled as it did. That’s because the Grand Rapids, Michigan police department apparently believed it was not a rights violation.

Here are the origins of the case, as summarized by ABC Affiliate WZZM. (WZZM apparently believes no one needs to read the actual review and hasn’t included it, despite it being freely available on the Michigan Supreme Court website. This is bad journalism and it is inexcusable.)

The incidents involved two black teenagers in 2011 and 2012, although the American Civil Liberties Union said photos and fingerprints were taken of thousands of people in Grand Rapids.

Denishio Johnson was arrested after driving through the parking lot of a fitness club where vehicles had been stolen.

Keyon Harrison was arrested after handing over a model train engine to someone. He said it was part of a school project. Johnson and Harrison were photographed and fingerprinted but were not charged with any crimes.

They then sued the Grand Rapids police.

Here is the coda, which came before this decision but not before the residents above had their rights violated.

Grand Rapids dropped the practice.

And there’s this caveat, which shows that the PD still believes he should be able to do it and is now restrained by The (Judicial) Man.

But he had championed fingerprints as a way to determine a person’s identity when they had no identification.

Come on man. The police do not have the right to identify everyone. They only need to identify certain people. And that need is subject to the Constitution, which means probable cause, which was certainly insufficient in those cases, not to mention the thousands of incidents where the cops got away with it.

The decision [PDF] is quite brief but does an in-depth job discussing relevant issues. The PD maintained that it was nothing more than a Sponge stop – a brief investigative meeting supported by reasonable suspicion. The court said none of these cases fit the description. They were lengthy and unnecessarily intrusive.

In these cases, the defendants argued only that the fingerprinting was proper under Terry v Ohio, 392 US 1 (1968), and that Harrison had consented to the fingerprinting. Under Terry, a brief detention in place of an individual is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment as long as the officer can articulate reasonable suspicion for the detention. In these cases, fingerprinting in accordance with P&P policy exceeded the permissible scope of a Terry stop because its scope was not reasonably related to the circumstances that warranted either stop; fingerprinting is unrelated to an officer’s immediate safety, and the Terry jurisprudence does not justify stops simply for the general purpose of solving crimes. Fingerprinting in these cases also exceeded the allowed length of a Terry stop.

In case #160959, VanderKooi called a backup officer to carry out the P&P policy, but Harrison had already answered questions regarding his identity; therefore, calling in another officer for backup after already determining that no criminal activity was taking place exceeded the allowable duration of the Terry stop.

Similarly, in case #160958, as soon as officers concluded that no crime had taken place in the parking lot where Johnson was being held, the reasons for the initial stop were dispelled and policy execution P&P was an impermissible extension of the length of the Terry shutdown. Because the P&P policy impermissibly exceeded both the scope and duration of a Terry stop, none of the searches fell within the stop and search exception to the warrant requirement.

The cops also maintained that this was standard identification procedure, although there was nothing standardized about it. The court also stops this argument.

The defendants argue that fingerprinting nevertheless falls within the scope of a Terry decision because determining an individual’s identity is an important governmental interest.


The fingerprinting in these cases was not reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that warranted either stop. In the absence of some sort of indication that the GRPD has access to a database that includes the fingerprints of all residents and visitors to the city, the fingerprinting of people who do not carry government-issued identification does not appear to be a useful or productive exercise in confirming the identity of an individual as there is no guarantee that there is a match that would provide more information. Instead, fingerprinting under P&P policy appears to be aimed at solving past or future crimes. There is nothing in the record to indicate that GRPD officers believed the fingerprinting would tie either complainant to the circumstances that warranted each of Terry’s stops.

The court sees this practice for what it is: an abuse of rights in an effort to populate the PD’s fingerprint database and fish for hits on past criminal activity.

To the extent that defendants argue that fingerprinting could help officers determine whether either plaintiff might be related to other crimes, such as previous break and enters, these crimes were necessarily unrelated to the reasons for the actual stops. Needless to say, Terry’s case law does not justify arraignments solely for the general purpose of solving crimes, especially for crimes that have not yet been committed..

This is exactly why the Constitution exists: to prevent, deter or remedy the indiscriminate use of governmental power. That this deterrence came after the fact does not look bad on the Constitution. Instead, it exposes the selfish actions of the Grand Rapids PD, which unilaterally decided that its own interests (efficiency, solving crimes) were more important than the rights of the public to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, grand rapids, grand rapids pd, identification, michigan, probable cause