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Police ingenuity doesn't trump constitutional rights

Inventors, engineers, researchers and many others make advancements in technology every day that affect all aspects of our lives. One recent application is taking a bite out of crime.

Police and biometrics: a new dynamic duo

Michigan State University biometrics researchers recently worked with police to help crack a murder case. The victim's phone was locked via a fingerprint authentication system. Police provided the MSU biometrics research team with the victim's fingerprints, which had been obtained in a prior arrest.

The researchers then printed 2D and 3D fingerprint replicas. When this failed to open the phone, they digitally enhanced the print quality and used 2D printings of the enhanced versions, created with special conductive ink. One of these prints finally successfully spoofed the Samsung Galaxy S6 phone sensor and opened the mobile device.

Police ingenuity

MSU claims this is the first time this kind of tech has been used in an ongoing police investigation. That may be so, but law enforcement is no stranger to the application of creative and unusual investigative techniques for solving crimes.

Police have a tough job. They apply all of their skills and knowledge to cracking cases and bringing the guilty party to justice. Unfortunately, their tactics may sometimes brush up against the letter of the law.

Interrogation is an area where police tactics are commonly challenged. Was the suspect detained? Did he receive his Miranda rights? Did he ask for counsel? Was their undue influence? The answers to these and other pertinent legal questions can make a huge difference in the admissibility of evidence in a criminal proceeding.

Evidence gathering is another area where a suspect's constitutional rights may be infringed upon. Was permission given to search? Does the plain sight rule apply? You better believe that these can be murky legal areas.

Your constitutional rights

Everyone charged with a crime has the right to effective legal representation, and is innocent until proven guilty. The job of law enforcement is to apprehend a suspect and gather evidence that he committed the crime. They are required to follow the law in carrying out these duties, but police officers are not attorneys.

Sometimes police infringe on your rights during their investigation, both intentionally and unintentionally. In some cases it is not at all a matter of intent, but of first-impression - like using fingerprints to crack open cellphones. Should this require a search warrant? Should it matter whose cellphone is getting cracked open? What circumstances might make the practice illegal? Courts have not yet decided these issues.

This is why a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense lawyer is invaluable when you are charged with a crime. Your lawyer will protect your rights and ensure that no one violates them while he or she is representing you.

If you have already been interviewed by the police, your attorney will review the circumstances to determine whether your statements are admissible in court. A good lawyer will fight to exclude them if he or she believes they violate your rights or are unreliable.

Your lawyer also reviews any search and seizure situations to determine whether your Fourth Amendment rights were upheld. And, in cases such as the biometric fingerprints, he will use his experience and legal knowledge to challenge new technologies and advancements that may violate your constitutional rights. Ingenuity works on both sides of the field. Make sure you have a savvy defense attorney on your team.

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