Can Police Forcefully Fingerprint Someone in a Florida Criminal Case?
Fingerprints can be one of the most important pieces of evidence in a Florida criminal case. No two are alike, so their presence may eliminate any other suspect at the crime scene. Because they can make the difference between an acquittal and a conviction, police will go to great lengths to obtain them.
If you’ve been arrested and police forced you to provide fingerprints, you’re probably wondering whether this is legal. After all, they’re a part of your body that could be used as evidence against you – essentially making you testify against yourself in violation of your civil rights. The answer to the question is far more complicated than a simple Yes or No, and a Florida criminal defense attorney can explain why. Some basics regarding your rights in a fingerprinting situation may also be helpful.
Florida’s Landmark Case on Fingerprints: The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided the issue of fingerprinting in the groundbreaking 1985 case of Hayes v. Florida, which still stands as the rule of the land to this day. In their unanimous opinion, the Justices described the rule for fingerprinting suspects: Officers must have an arrest warrant signed by a judge OR probable cause to believe that a person committed a criminal offense before they can take him into the police station to be fingerprinted. A synopsis of the case explains some of the factors behind their holding:
- Based upon witness accounts, Defendant Hayes became a suspect in a string of assaults and home invasions. Police had previously recovered fingerprints from an interior doorknob of one victim’s residence, so they requested Hayes to provide his own to determine whether there was a match.
- Hayes initially refused, and only agreed to go to the station on threat of arrest. He was fingerprinted and the results were a match. He was formally placed under arrest and eventually convicted for rape and burglary.
- During the appeals process, the key question became at what point officers could force him to provide fingerprints. A lower court said the prints were admissible as evidence because all police needed was reasonable suspicion.
- In its opinion, SCOTUS disagreed, stating that the proper standard was probable cause. Unless there was probable cause to make an arrest, there’s no authorization for police to forcefully take fingerprints.
Comparing Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause: Officers can only make an arrest based upon probable cause if there’s a probability – more likely than not – that criminal activity is present or about to occur. Reasonable suspicion is anything less than probable cause, but it must be more than a mere hunch by officers. Since it’s not to the level of probable cause, reasonable suspicion doesn’t give police the power to take fingerprints.
Reach Out to a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Right Away
As you can see, there’s much more to the issue of fingerprinting and your civil rights in a Florida criminal case. When there’s a possibility that they could lead to a conviction, you need solid legal representation to ensure improperly obtained fingerprints are tossed out of court. For more information, please contact Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Kevin J. Kulik to schedule a confidential consultation at our office.