Commonwealth v. Moser

Decision Date19 September 2022
Docket Number426 MDA 2022
Citation283 A.3d 850
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Obadiah MOSER, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Nicole J. Spring, Public Defender, Williamsport, for appellant.

Ryan C. Gardner, District Attorney, Williamsport, for Commonwealth. appellee.

BEFORE: KUNSELMAN, J., McCAFFERY, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E.*

OPINION BY KUNSELMAN, J.:

Obadiah Moser appeals from the judgment of sentence of 80 to 160 years of incarceration entered following his conviction of numerous sexual offenses against a minor victim, R.H. He challenges the denial of his motion to suppress evidence and the discretionary aspects of his sentence. We affirm.

On November 11, 2020, police charged Moser based on R.H.’s report that when R.H. was ages 12 to 14, Moser sexually abused him eleven times. The case proceeded to a non-jury trial on October 20 and 21, 2021. During trial, Moser orally moved to suppress two deleted "Notes" recovered from his cellular phone.1 The trial court recessed, and a different judge heard the motion.

The evidence relevant to the suppression issue is as follows. Police discovered the Notes while executing two search warrants. In the first search, police seized electronics from Moser's house, including an iPhone. In the second, Pennsylvania State Police digital forensic examiner Stefan Gerneth seized digital information from the iPhone, including the Notes at issue. Both Notes were created during the time of the reported abuse, and both had been deleted by the time they were seized.2

The affidavit of probable cause in the second search warrant included the following information about Moser's use of technology:

[I interviewed R.H. on October 28, 2020.] RH told me during the interview that he would communicate with MOSER via cell phone. RH said that MOSER would constantly message him through different social medias such as Snapchat, Facebook messenger.[3]
RH said that in these conversations, MOSER would talk to him about hanging out and seeing what he doing. RH stated that if he did not answer MOSER, MOSER would then message his other family members looking for him.
On 11/05/2020, I interviewed Obadiah MOSER after he was mirandized and waived his rights. MOSER told me that he did talk to RH through different social medias. MOSER said that he first talked to him on Facebook messenger but later deleted it.
MOSER told me that he then spoke to RH’[s] parents and was told that these kids were now using Snapchat. MOSER told me that he had downloaded [Snapchat] then and was communicating with RH through that. MOSER said that he did talk to RH a lot through messaging.
* * *
Based off my training and experience, I know that smartphone apps can also be accessed through desktop computers and laptops. I also know that it is common for people to save pictures and conversations on separate devices.
Based on my previous child sex cases and child predator trainings, I have learned that it is common for offenders to possess[ ] photographs of their victims on their media devices. I also learned it is common for them to communicate to the victims on different devices other than their main communicative device.
At this time, I request a search warrant be issued for the items listed in the "Items to be searched for" portion of the application and all the data contained within the Iphone.

Search warrant, 11/24/20, at 2–3.

The second search warrant authorized a search of, inter alia , "[a]ll the data within" Moser's iPhone. Id. at Attachment A. The items to be searched for and seized were:

Any and all calls/messages/conversations/photos/videos that establish or provide details regarding the nature of the relationship between [Moser] and the victim (RH) relating to violations of Title 18: Section 3121 A(1) – Rape by forcible Compulsion and Title 18: Section 6301A(1)(i) – corruption of a minor and other related charges.

Id.

At the suppression hearing, the Commonwealth called Mr. Gerneth, who testified as an expert in computer forensics. He explained the function of the Notes application: "In previous investigations that I performed, the Notes app typically holds a message or some kind of information. There was an investigation[,] specifically it was a suicide[,] and within that Note[s] section was a message to the family detailing why she decided to commit suicide." N.T., Suppression, 10/20/21, at 11–12. He explained why he looked in the Notes folder from the data extraction in this case:

Very commonly in our data extractions we will find messages or messages to other people that are written out within the Notes app, they just were not sent. It's similar to writing a letter you just don't put in the post office. A lot of times people save messages in the notes or create messages or write out their thoughts of things they want to tell people and they just haven't done that. It's just in the notes, they just use it as like a notebook and write everything down to -- to maybe send it out in the future.

Id. at 14.

Moser argued that the second search warrant did not authorize the seizure of the Notes because the Notes were not "messages." Alternatively, Moser reasoned that if the warrant permitted police to seize the Notes, then it was overbroad because there was no probable cause to seize the Notes.

The Commonwealth responded that under a common-sense reading, the warrant authorized police to seize the Notes because a "message" can mean a "note or memo," including an unsent draft. Additionally, the Commonwealth submitted that the warrant was not overbroad because the police could seize only items that detailed Moser's relationship with R.H.

The suppression court denied Moser's motion to suppress. The court first concluded that the search did not exceed the scope of the second search warrant because Moser's deleted Notes were "messages" or "conversations":

[T]he courts look with great caution on warrants addressed to cell phones. A recent case found that a general consent for electronic devices did not constitute a consent for the search of the phone.
In this particular case, however, the Court cannot ignore the purpose of the search warrant, nor the language. The purpose of the search warrant was to locate data that detailed the nature of the relationship between [Moser] and [R.H.]
The items to be seized included among others "messages and conversations". A message does not need to be communicated; it can be left for a recipient, not then available. Commonwealth is correct that a synonym for a message includes a note or memo. A conversation constitutes the imparting of information. A synonym includes, as indicated, imparting or reporting. Furthermore, the Court finds that a communication also includes what is known as intrapersonal communication or self-talk.

Suppression Court Opinion, 10/27/21, at 2.4 The court also concluded that Moser's overbreadth challenge failed due to the warrant's limiting language:

The court cannot find in this case that the warrant is overbroad particularly because of the language set forth in the warrant that qualifies or conditions it. Specifically, the items to be seized include all items referenced that establish or provide details regarding the nature of the relationship between [Moser and R.H.]

Id. at 3–4. Therefore, the suppression court denied Moser's motion to suppress the two Notes.

The trial resumed, and the Commonwealth presented the Notes as evidence. The trial court then found Moser guilty of 48 offenses. On February 17, 2022, the court sentenced Moser to an aggregate term of 80 to 160 years of incarceration, followed by three years of probation.5

Moser timely appealed.6 Moser and the trial court complied with Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925.

Moser raises two issues for our review:

I. Did the lower court err by denying [Moser's] motion to suppress "Notes Application" information from his cell phone where the warrant authorized searching for conversations, photos and videos or, in the alternative, was the warrant overbroad?
II. Did the trial court abuse its discretion when imposing sentence of 80 to 160 years [of] incarceration for counts of rape of and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child?

Moser's Brief at 7 (capitalization omitted).7

I. Suppression

Moser's first issue mirrors his argument before the suppression court. We follow these well-settled principles:

our standard of review for the denial of a suppression motion is de novo and is limited to determining whether the suppression court's factual findings are supported by the record and whether the legal conclusions drawn from those facts are correct. Our scope of review is to consider only the evidence of the Commonwealth and so much of the evidence for the defense as remains uncontradicted when read in the context of the suppression record as a whole. When the sole issue on appeal relates to a suppression ruling, our review includes only the suppression hearing record and excludes from consideration evidence elicited at trial.

Commonwealth v. Green , ––– Pa. –––––, 265 A.3d 541, 550–51 (2021) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

A. Scope of Warrant

Moser first contends that the Notes were outside the scope of what police could search for and seize under the language of the second search warrant.

Both the federal and Pennsylvania constitutions protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by requiring search warrants. U.S. Const. amend. IV ; Pa. Const. Art. I, § 8. The Fourth Amendment requires warrants to be issued "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized." Commonwealth v. Turpin , 654 Pa. 619, 216 A.3d 1055, 1063–64 (2019) (quoting Maryland v. Garrison , 480 U.S. 79, 84, 107 S.Ct. 1013, 94 L.Ed.2d 72 (1987) ). Similarly, the Pennsylvania Constitution requires that a search warrant describe things to be seized "as nearly as may be" to prevent general, exploratory searches and "the seizure of one thing under a warrant describing another."...

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5 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Burrell
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • January 19, 2023
    ...of the search. For example, police could seize a kitchen knife during a warranted search for "one pocket knife." Commonwealth v. Moser, 283 A.3d 850, 857 (Pa.Super. 2022) (internal citations and some quotation marks omitted). Additionally, Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 901 governs the authe......
  • Commonwealth v. Lomax
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • June 6, 2023
    ... ... sole claim on appeal challenges the discretionary aspects of ... her sentence. As such, this Court's jurisdiction is ... limited because challenges to the discretionary aspects of a ... sentence are not appealable as of right. Commonwealth v ... Moser, 283 A.3d 850, 858 (Pa. Super. 2022). Instead, to ... invoke our jurisdiction, with respect to this claim, ... Appellant needed to: (1) file a timely notice of appeal; (2) ... properly preserve the issue at sentencing or ... in a motion to reconsider and modify the sentence; ... ...
  • Commonwealth v. Huffman
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • January 6, 2023
    ...court's opinion. Accordingly, Appellant waived his claim, and we cannot address the merits of the issue. See Commonwealth v. Moser, 283 A.3d 850, 858 (Pa. Super. 2022) ("[Moser] has failed to preserve his challenge by objecting at sentencing or by filing a motion to reconsider and modify hi......
  • Commonwealth v. Hall
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • November 3, 2023
    ...1002 (Pa. Super. 2014)). The overbreadth doctrine "applies equally to a search of digital space as it does for a physical space." Moser, 283 A.3d at 858 (quoting Green, A.3d at 553-54). An otherwise overbroad warrant may be cured by "self-limiting language" in the affidavit of probable caus......
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