Court: No 5th Amendment protection against being forced to unlock phone

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that you’re not protected by the Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) when a judge orders you to use your fingerprint to unlock your cellphone.

The court ruled in the case of Matthew Vaughn Diamond, who had been convicted by a jury of burglary and theft charges in the break-in of a home in Chaska.

A detective obtained a search warrant for Diamond’s cellphone but was unable to unlock it, so a court ordered Diamond to use his fingerprint to unlock it.

Diamond’s appeal is the first time a Minnesota appellate court has considered whether being forced to unlock a cellphone violates a right not to incriminate oneself.

Is it the same as being forced to testify against oneself? No, Judge Tracy Smith wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel in today’s opinion.

“In examining its application of Fifth Amendment principles, the Supreme Court has established that, ‘in order to be testimonial, [a criminal defendant’s] communication must itself, explicitly or implicitly, relate a factual assertion or disclose information. Only then is a person compelled to be a ‘witness’ against himself,’” she wrote.

Judge Smith said Diamond wasn’t required to “speak any knowledge” of his guilt in being forced to unlock the phone.

“Instead, the task that Diamond was compelled to perform — to provide his fingerprint — is no more testimonial than furnishing a blood sample, providing handwriting or voice exemplars, standing in a lineup, or wearing particular clothing,” she ruled.

Diamond’s attorney, however, argued that by unlocking the cellphone, he was providing incriminating information.

He was sentenced to 51 months in prison.