Commonwealth v. Talley, 14 MAP 2021

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE WECHT
Citation265 A.3d 485
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Daniel George TALLEY, Appellant
Docket NumberNo. 14 MAP 2021,14 MAP 2021
Decision Date22 December 2021

265 A.3d 485

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
v.
Daniel George TALLEY, Appellant

No. 14 MAP 2021

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued: September 22, 2021
Decided: December 22, 2021


James Patrick Davy, Esq., All Rise Trial & Appellate, for Amicus Curiae Philadelphia Bail Fund.

Thomas Matthew Dugan, Esq., Brandon Paul Ging, Esq., Jamie Tesa Schuman, Steven Anthony Tehovnik, Esq., Allegheny County Public Defender's Office, for Amicus Curiae Allegheny County Public Defender's Office.

Peter Rosalsky, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia, for Amicus Curiae Defender Association of Philadelphia.

Michael F. J. Piecuch, Esq., Maureen Flannery Spang, Esq., PA District Attorneys Association, for Amicus Curiae Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

Nyssa E. Taylor, Esq., American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, for Amicus Curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Katherine Elizabeth Ernst, Esq., for Appellant.

Robert Martin Falin, Esq., Adrienne D. Jappe, Esq., Stanley Joseph Konoval, Esq., Kevin R. Steele, Esq., Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, for Appellee.

BAER, C.J., SAYLOR, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ.

OPINION

JUSTICE WECHT

265 A.3d 499

We granted review of this matter to resolve two distinct legal issues, one of longstanding import to the criminal law, and the other of contemporary significance. The first addresses the Commonwealth's burden of proof when it seeks to deprive the accused of his or her state constitutional right to bail—a right that has existed in Pennsylvania law since the Commonwealth's founding by William Penn in 1682. That right, now reposed in Article I, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, embodies three core tenets of our system of criminal justice: "(a) the importance of the presumption of innocence; (b) the distaste for the imposition of sanctions prior to trial and conviction; and (c) the desire to give the accused the maximum opportunity to prepare his defense." Commonwealth v. Truesdale , 449 Pa. 325, 296 A.2d 829, 834-35 (1972).

For more than three centuries, the right-to-bail clause invariably has provided that "all prisoners shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, unless for capital offenses when the proof is evident or presumption great." But in the 1998 general election, a majority of Pennsylvania's voters approved an amendment that added new language to Article I, Section 14, the relevant portion of which now provides:

All prisoners shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, unless for capital offenses or for offenses for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment or unless no condition or combination of conditions other than imprisonment will reasonably assure the safety of any person and the community when the proof is evident or presumption great ....

PA. CONST. art. I, § 14. While the amendment expanded the class of nonbailable prisoners, the requisite proof needed to deny them bail did not change. Since 1682, one's right to bail could not be denied unless "the proof was evident or presumption great." In this case, we must determine the meaning of that colonial-era phrase as it relates to an assertion that the accused should be denied bail because "no condition or combination of conditions other than imprisonment will reasonably assure the safety of any person and the community."

The second issue, in contrast, concerns the interplay between twenty-first century cellphone technology and the rules governing the admissibility of evidence. More specifically, we must determine whether the best-evidence rule allows a party to introduce printed photographs of text messages as they appeared on a cellphone's interface—i.e. , "screenshots." Ordinarily, the best-evidence rule requires the production of an "original" writing when a document is central to a case. Under certain conditions, however, a party may offer a "duplicate" of the original writing. Here, we assess whether the best-evidence

265 A.3d 500

rule applies to the text messages at issue, and, if so, whether the printed screenshots of the messages were admissible as either originals or duplicates.

I. Background

In March 2016, Christa Nesbitt was working as a server at the Whistle Stop diner in Oreland, Pennsylvania, when she first met Daniel Talley. As time passed, Talley began visiting Nesbitt regularly at the diner. Over the next several months, their friendly chats led to mutual affection, which then evolved into an intimate and physical relationship. In September 2016, Talley asked Nesbitt and her minor daughter, R.N., to move into his home. Nesbitt agreed. She and R.N. lived with Talley until the spring of 2017.

On May 27, 2017, Nesbitt and R.N. moved out of Talley's house. The next day, Nesbitt began receiving threatening and harassing messages on her mobile phone from unfamiliar email addresses, including from "maxkillin@gmx.com," "mkkilonton@outlook," "c6103317009@outlook," and "Christa.Nesbitt@tush." Notes of Testimony ("N.T."), Trial, 7/23/2018, at 98, 164-65, 171. The messages referred to Nesbitt using vulgar names. For example, one message contained the following rhyme:

Twinkle, twinkle little whore.

Close your legs. They're not a door.

You're gonna get an STD.

They only like you cuz you're [free].

Id . at 141. Other messages contained threats, one of which stated, "I was up da stret from your house. My gun was loaded, and I was going to end everything. We cld die togetter." Id . at 139. Some referenced R.N.—e.g. , "Where my kid now, slut" and "GIMME BACK [R.N.]." Id . at 103, 165.

On June 2, 2017, while dining at a Friendly's restaurant, Nesbitt received a text message stating that the sender was watching her eat. Nesbitt reported this incident to Detective Robert Chiarlanza of the Springfield Township Police Department. Detective Chiarlanza examined Nesbitt's cellphone and determined that one of the applications installed on it automatically and in real-time was sharing her device's location with a corresponding application that was installed on Talley's cellphone, which would allow Talley to track Nesbitt's movements when she possessed her phone. At that time, Detective Chiarlanza instructed Nesbitt to document the harassing messages. Nesbitt began taking screenshots of the messages.

On June 19, 2017, Nesbitt received a message with the subject "Tick tock," which read, in part, "It gonna happen, slut. You gonna pay. Comin’ soon mybe on Fox stret. You seem to like it der." Id . at 140. Around 11:30 p.m. that night, Nesbitt's friend and neighbor, Ashley Donnelly, was sitting outside when she noticed a pickup truck that she believed resembled Talley's 2003 Chevrolet Silverado parked near Nesbitt's home. After watching the truck drive in the direction of Nesbitt's home, Donnelly heard a loud bang. She immediately texted Nesbitt that Talley was driving near Nesbitt's house.

The following day, Nesbitt noticed a puncture hole on the outside of her vehicle. Believing that someone may have shot her car, Nesbitt reported the incident to Detective Chiarlanza, who went to her home with several other police officers. There, Detective Chiarlanza observed "[a] round hole resembling that of a bullet hole ... at the driver's side rear sail" of Nesbitt's vehicle. Crim. Compl. Aff. of Probable Cause, 8/7/2017, at 1 (hereinafter, "Affidavit"). Investigators also spoke with Donnelly, who recounted what she had seen and heard the night before.

265 A.3d 501

That same day, June 20, 2017, Detective Chiarlanza obtained a warrant to search Talley's home and his belongings, and a separate warrant for Talley's arrest. When police officers arrived at his home, Talley was standing in his driveway armed with a Kel-Tec .380 semiautomatic pistol. The officers arrested Talley and proceeded to search his home. His computer and cellphone were seized and forensically examined. The Commonwealth charged Talley with "aggravated assault, stalking, harassment and related offenses," and he "was remanded to Montgomery County Correctional Facility in lieu of $75,000 cash bail," which he posted on June 22. Affidavit at 1.1

Following Talley's arrest, Nesbitt stopped receiving the anonymous messages. On June 22, 2017, Talley was released on bail. Within an hour of his release, Nesbitt began receiving more harassing messages from unfamiliar email addresses. Additionally, Nesbitt received several notifications from Facebook that someone had attempted to reset her password, as well as a message that a new Facebook account was created on her behalf. On July 18, 2017, law enforcement officials, after obtaining a second arrest warrant, took Talley back into custody. His bail was set at $250,000.

On August 7, 2017, the Commonwealth filed a criminal complaint formally charging Talley with the offenses specified above, as well as criminal use of a communication facility, terroristic threats, recklessly endangering another person, and simple assault.2 An affidavit of probable cause substantiating the remaining charges was attached to the complaint. See supra n.1. In addition to much of the foregoing factual account, the affiant set forth the following...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. Young, 19 MAP 2021
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2021
    ...court's order, which had granted in part and denied in part Young's and Casey's pretrial motions. Like the Commonwealth, Young and Casey 265 A.3d 485 filed a single notice of appeal from the trial court's ruling on their pre-trial motions. The Superior Court applied Walker to quash their ap......
  • Commonwealth v. Chambers, 424 EDA 2021
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 27, 2022
    ...because they did not arise from a single criminal act and all elements of the subsection are not included in the other), 10 affirmed, 265 A.3d 485 (Pa. 2021);[5] Commonwealth v. Rhoades, 8 A.3d 912, 918 (Pa.Super. 2010) (holding because two aggravated assault subsections - 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 2......
  • Manuel v. Leighton, 589 MDA 2021
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 11, 2022
    ...trial court abused its discretion merely because the appellate court disagrees with the trial court's conclusion. Commonwealth v. Talley, 265 A.3d 485, 530 (Pa. 2021) (citation omitted). The Administrator fails to identify, much less establish, which of form of abuse of discretion the trial......
3 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Young, 19 MAP 2021
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2021
    ...court's order, which had granted in part and denied in part Young's and Casey's pretrial motions. Like the Commonwealth, Young and Casey 265 A.3d 485 filed a single notice of appeal from the trial court's ruling on their pre-trial motions. The Superior Court applied Walker to quash their ap......
  • Commonwealth v. Chambers, 424 EDA 2021
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 27, 2022
    ...because they did not arise from a single criminal act and all elements of the subsection are not included in the other), 10 affirmed, 265 A.3d 485 (Pa. 2021);[5] Commonwealth v. Rhoades, 8 A.3d 912, 918 (Pa.Super. 2010) (holding because two aggravated assault subsections - 18 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 2......
  • Manuel v. Leighton, 589 MDA 2021
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 11, 2022
    ...trial court abused its discretion merely because the appellate court disagrees with the trial court's conclusion. Commonwealth v. Talley, 265 A.3d 485, 530 (Pa. 2021) (citation omitted). The Administrator fails to identify, much less establish, which of form of abuse of discretion the trial......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT