In 1968, the United States Supreme Court rendered its landmark decision in Terry v Ohio.
The Terry case held that it is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures for a police officer to make a brief on-the-scene investigatory stop of an individual who he or she has a reasonable suspicion is involved in criminal activity and, for the officer’s own safety, to conduct a limited search of the person’s outer clothing to check for weapons. This has come to be known as a “Terry Stop” or a “Stop and Frisk.”
This is now a standard police practice and there are numerous federal and state cases, which have set the parameters on what is and isn’t allowed under the law.
For example, on Nov. 21, the Michigan Court of Appeals rendered its decision in Johnson v Vanderkooi as to the constitutionality of a practice by the Grand Rapids Police Department of fingerprinting and photographing selected individuals during Terry Stops for identification purposes.
This came into question when two juveniles were individually stopped and questioned for suspicious activities in 2011 and 2012, had their fingerprints and pictures taken, and then released without being charged with crimes.
In 2014, civil lawsuits were filed alleging this practice was a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.
The Johnson court noted that although the United States Supreme Court had never specifically decided this issue, it had previously ruled that what a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. Another Supreme Court case suggested that fingerprinting based on reasonable suspicion only might be allowed.
After a thorough review of these and other cases the court held that this was not an unconstitutional search for a number of reasons including that a person’s fingerprints and physical appearance are exposed to public view and there is no expectation of privacy.
Grand Rapids modified this practice in 2015 to make it more limited.
This is a case of “first impression” in Michigan. This means that our Michigan Supreme Court and/or the United States Supreme Court have not ruled on this particular issue. If there are further appeals I will make a full report.