Commonwealth v. Young

Decision Date23 December 2022
Docket Number2088 MDA 2018, No. 2089 MDA 2018
Citation287 A.3d 907
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Brendan Patrick YOUNG Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Daniel Casey
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Hugh J. Burns Jr., Office of the Attorney General, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Joseph E. McGettigan III, Berwyn, for appellee.



The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has appealed from the order that, inter alia , granted the motion to suppress evidence obtained from the cellular phones of defendants Brendan Patrick Young and Daniel Casey (collectively "Appellees"). We affirm.

The suppression court offered the following summary of the facts that gave rise to the charges pending in these cases:

The evidence at the first preliminary hearing indicated that on the night of February 2, 2017, the [Penn State chapter of the Beta Theta Pi] fraternity held a bid acceptance night for the purposes of welcoming fourteen individuals as pledges who sought to join the fraternity. Of these fourteen pledges, twelve were under the age of 21. After a bid acceptance ceremony, the pledges were then directed through the stations of the "gauntlet" where they were encouraged to hurry through six stations and drink alcohol at each station. After completing the gauntlet, the pledges attended a social in the basement of the fraternity house and were joined by a women's organization called Trilogy. During that social event, one of the pledges, Timothy Piazza, falls down the basement stairs. Several fraternity brothers carried Mr. Piazza up the stairs and placed him on a couch in the "Great Hall". As the brothers carried Mr. Piazza upstairs, a large bruise is visible on the left side of Mr. Piazza's abdomen. Detective David Scicchitano, who reviewed extensive video evidence of the time at issue, testified that the video shows Mr. Piazza roll off the couch at around 7:00 a.m. Mr. Piazza eventually gets to his feet, staggers around and disappears after heading toward the basement stairs. After that point, Mr. Piazza is not seen on video for over two hours. Mr. Piazza was found lying in the basement and was carried upstairs and placed, once again, on a couch in the Great Hall. About 41 or 42 minutes after finding Mr. Piazza in the basement, a fraternity brother called 911. Mr. Piazza died on February 4, 2017 from his injuries.
The evidence related to Daniel Casey at the first preliminary hearing indicated that he was the Administrative Vice President of the fraternity in the spring of 2017. Mr. Casey was also the pledge master in the spring of 2017 and had previously served as the assistant pledge master. Prior to the bid acceptance ceremony, Mr. Casey sent texts to one of the fraternity brothers asking him to purchase specific types and quantities of alcohol. Mr. Casey sent a text message to each of the fourteen pledges on February 2, 2017, directing them to arrive at the fraternity house at 9:07 p.m. After the pledges were led into the basement, Mr. Casey entered the basement and, along with his assistant, Joseph Sala, lined up the pledges. The pledges were instructed to pass a bottle of vodka down the line and that the last pledge would have to finish the bottle. Because of the amount of vodka left, the pledges were instructed to pass the bottle again. During the gauntlet, Mr. Casey was in charge of the vodka station, which was the first station the pledges went through. Mr. Casey also handed a beer to a pledge after the gauntlet had ended.
The evidence related to Brendan Young at the first preliminary hearing indicated that he was the President of the fraternity in the spring of 2017. Mr. Young had previously served as the pledge master for the fraternity at the time that Mr. Casey was serving as assistant pledge master. Text messages between Mr. Young and Mr. Casey indicate that they planned the spring of 2016 gauntlet together. Mr. Young sent texts to a fraternity brother in the fall of 2016, asking that brother to purchase alcohol for bid acceptance night that semester. Mr. Young also sent texts indicating that he had set up the obstacle course for the fall of 2016. The texts from Mr. Young's phone indicate Mr. Young was aware that a pledge named Kordel Davis fell and was injured during bid acceptance night in the fall of 2016. Though Mr. Davis did not complete the obstacle course, he showed up afterwards and was encouraged to drink quickly to catch up with his fellow pledges. Also during bid acceptance night in the fall of 2016, Mr. Young texted a fraternity brother stating that a pledge vomited a lot. In January of 2017, when Mr. Casey took over as pledge master, Mr. Young texted Mr. Casey "I know you know this. If anything goes wrong with the pledges this semester, then both of us are f***ed." That same day, Mr. Young also texted Mr. Casey that "I'm thinking I'll be heavily involved with pledging." During the spring of 2017 gauntlet, Mr. Young was observed standing near the vodka station and then later observed near the beer shotgun station.

Suppression Court Opinion, 11/21/18, at 5-7 (cleaned up).

Police obtained the video files taken inside the residence through a warrant issued on February 8, 2017. That warrant sought the video data created from cameras inside the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house, files which were stored on devices already within the possession of the police. The description of items to be searched was specifically limited on the face of the warrant to recordings of "the events of the night of 2/2/2017 through the morning of 2/3/2017." N.T. Pre-trial Motions, 10/22/18, at 26-28, Exhibit C-11 ("video warrant"). The video warrant also on its face indicated that Detective Scicchitano's three-page affidavit of probable cause was attached thereto. Id .

The police obtained the text messages discussed above from Mr. Young's phone by a warrant issued on March 1, 2017 ("Young warrant"). The Young warrant identified the "items to be searched for and seized" as follows:

A cellular phone belonging to Brendan Young to include all of the phone's passwords and/or encryption codes; all data stored electronically, digitally or by any other method, which is contained and stored with this cellular phone associated with Brendan Young's phone. This data includes, but [is] not limited to, all sent/received text/SMS messaging and MMS messaging, pictures/images and/o videos and all call data logs for incoming/outgoing/dialed and missed phone calls stored within the cellular phone and micro SD memory device storage within said phone; all emails sent/received; all social media messaging; all internet searches.

Response to Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence (Young), 10/16/18, at Appendix A (Young warrant). Unlike the video warrant, there was no time or date range provided for any of the materials identified in the Young warrant. Also in contrast with the video warrant, the box next to the statement "Probable Cause Affidavit(s) MUST be attached (unless sealed below). Total number of pages: ___" was not checked, and the number of pages for the affidavit was not supplied. Id . Instead, the warrant indicated below the magistrate's authorization that the affidavits of probable cause were sealed for sixty days. Id . The warrant for the search of Mr. Casey's phone ("Casey warrant") is identical in all material respects, and similarly produced evidence offered by the Commonwealth at the preliminary hearings.1 See Response to Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence (Casey), 10/16/18, at Appendix A.

Thereafter, Appellees were ultimately charged with multiple counts of recklessly endangering another person ("REAP"), hazing, alcohol-related violations, and conspiracy.2 Mr. Young filed an omnibus pre-trial motion which included a motion to suppress cell phone evidence based upon the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution on multiple bases. Of relevance to this appeal, Mr. Young asserted that the warrant permitting the search of his phone lacked particularity and was instead an invalid "general warrant that authorize[d] ‘a general exploratory rummaging in a person's belongings.’ " Omnibus Pretrial Motions (Young), 8/16/18, at ¶ 26(M) (quoting Coolidge v. New Hampshire , 403 U.S. 443, 467, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971) ). In the accompanying brief, Mr. Young expressly included an unconstitutional overbreadth argument in support of suppression. See Brief in Support of Omnibus Pretrial Motions, 8/16/18, at 23-24.

The Commonwealth filed a brief in opposition to the suppression of the evidence obtained from Mr. Young's phone. Therein, the Commonwealth advocated that the Young warrant contained sufficient particularity, and also provided extensive argument that the warrant was not overbroad. See Response to Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence (Young), 10/16/18, at 15-20.

Mr. Casey, in his omnibus pretrial motions, sought suppression of the contents of his phone on the basis that compelling him to provide his passcode violated his Fifth Amendment rights and exceeded the scope of the warrant. See Omnibus Pretrial Motion (Casey), at ¶¶ 49-60. While his motion did not include an overbreadth challenge to the Casey warrant, he did expressly request therein to join the pre-trial motions of the other related defendants.3 Id . at ¶¶ 101-102.

The suppression court scheduled a joint hearing on the pretrial motions of Appellees, and others charged in connection with Mr. Piazza's death, to take place beginning on October 22, 2018. At the outset of the hearing, the court asked the Commonwealth whether it objected to the defendantsrequests to join each other's motions. See N.T. Pre-trial Motions, 10/22/18, at 7. The Commonwealth did not generally object, expressing its anticipation that the Court's rulings would be applied consistently to all defendants and its...

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