GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — The Michigan Supreme Court says the practice of fingerprinting people without probable cause or a warrant is unconstitutional.

The court unanimously said the Grand Rapids Police Department violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

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

Denishio Johnson was stopped after cutting through the parking lot of a fitness club where there had been vehicle thefts. Keyon Harrison was stopped after handing a model train engine to someone. He said it was part of a school project. Johnson and Harrison were photographed and fingerprinted but not charged with crimes.

“In considering the fingerprint component of the P&P procedure, we hold that the P&P procedure is unconstitutional,” the court’s decision reads in part. “Fingerprinting an individual without probable cause, a warrant, or an applicable warrant exception violates an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.”

“Fingerprinting pursuant to the P&P policy exceeded the permissible scope … because it was not reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop,” the ruling continues. “Having held that fingerprinting constitutes a search, it is clear that fingerprinting does not fall within the limited weapons search that is justified under certain circumstances… fingerprinting is simply not related to an officer’s immediate safety concerns.”

It added that the policy was aimed at solving crimes, not confirming identity, which the defendants had argued.

“It goes unsaid that … caselaw does not justify stops merely for the general purpose of crime-solving, especially for those crimes that have yet to occur,” the opinion reads.

The case was sent back to the Kent County Circuit Court for further proceedings.

The ACLU, which was representing Johnson and Harrison, on Friday praised the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision.

“The GRPD’s ‘photograph and print’ policy was used on thousands of people over a period of more than 30 years, and photographs and fingerprints were retained by the police indefinitely,” the ACLU said in a release. “The collection of personal biometric data in law enforcement databases represents a growing threat to privacy and civil liberties throughout the country.”

The ACLU said the policy “primarily targeted Black people,” saying that 75% of those photographed and printed were Black when only 21% of the city’s population is Black.

“Today’s unanimous ruling confirms that the Grand Rapids Police Department’s photograph and print policy is dangerous and unconstitutional. The policy enabled decades of racial profiling, police overreach, and threats to personal privacy. It is time to reimagine policing and center the needs of the communities that officers are sworn to serve and protect,” ACLU of Michigan legal director Dan Korobkin said in a statement.

GRPD changed its policy after it was sued in 2015, saying at the time it would no longer routinely take fingerprints and photos of a person without ID, though it said at the time there may still be circumstances when fingerprinting would happen — like when someone had been issued a citation or when their behavior was “highly suspicious.”

News 8 checked the department’s handbook, and it says police can take fingerprints without consent under three circumstances:

  1. There’s probable cause the person has committed a crime
  2. The person is incapacitated and can’t provide reliable ID, and the officer needs it to carry out their lawful duties
  3. There’s a valid court order

The city of Grand Rapids released this statement after the ruling came down:

“The City of Grand Rapids has received the decision and is currently reviewing what its next steps may be. As this ruling now requires additional consideration for lower courts, we will withhold further public comment as each case works towards a final resolution.”

— City of Grand Rapids

News 8’s Byron Tollefson contributed to this post.