The Pennsylvania Superior Court has thrown out a conviction and sentence of four years’ probation given to a scorned ex-lover who is accused of accessing his former girlfriend’s email account.
A three-judge panel consisting of Judges Victor Stabile, Lillian Harris Ransom and Carolyn H. Nichols reversed Ayyakkannu Manivannan’s conviction on five counts of unlawful use of a computer and one count of harassment and remanded the case for a new trial.
Manivannan argued that the admission of a letter from Comcast indicating Manivannan’s IP address popped up when the alleged illegal access of his ex-lover Faith Beck’s email account occurred was an abuse of discretion on the trial judge’s part.
He also argued that lay testimony from Beck, the man she left him for, Partha Mishra, and the police officer handling the case, Jessica Meyer, was not legally sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the IP address Comcast identified was Manivannan’s accessing Beck’s account five times was enough for a conviction.
First, Ransom said in the court’s opinion, the letter did not meet the admissibility standards.
“The commonwealth did not present testimony from a record custodian or other qualified witness. Rather, it sought to authenticate the Comcast letter by certification,” Ransom said.
She added, “The document consists of a single page and includes boilerplate language asserting that the ‘attached documents’ comport with the requirements of Rule 803(6)(A)-(C). Further, we note that the document was executed 19 months after the Comcast letter, signed by an individual named Joseph Krysiak who is identified only as ‘a Legal Analyst II,’ and tendered separately from the Comcast letter. … There were no additional documents attached, e.g., the letter itself. Thus, there is no discernible correlation between this document and the evidence it purports to authenticate. Based upon these deficiencies, we cannot accept that the Comcast letter is self-authenticating … nor can the commonwealth guarantee the trustworthiness of its contents.”
On the testimony aspect, Ransom said the issue was one of first impression.
Ransom said that although there is no extensive body of case law on the subject of whether a connection between an IP address and a geographic location requires expert testimony, “we are constrained to agree with appellant that the trial court abused its discretion in permitting Ms. Beck, Mr. Mishra, and Officer Meyer to draw conclusions from the information in Ms. Beck’s email account settings that depicted multiple instances of disparate IP addresses accessing her account from approximate geographic locations.”
James Becker of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney represented Manivannan in the case and said he and his client were pleased with the ruling in all respects.
Bernard Cantorna of the Centre County District Attorney’s Office did not return a call seeking comment.
(Copies of the 31-page opinion in Commonwealth v. Manivannan, PICS No. 18-0581, are available at http://at.law.com/PICS.)