A cellphone seized from a former LSU student accused in the 2017 hazing death of fraternity pledge Max Gruver has finally been unlocked after months of unsuccessful attempts, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Friday.
An attorney for Matthew Naquin, the ex-student charged with negligent homicide, called the development a “big blow” to privacy rights.
“Everyone needs to know that no matter what Apple or Samsung or anyone says, the Government can get into your phone,” John McLindon, who represents Naquin, said in an email response to a request for comment.
Moore said the FBI Crime Lab in Quantico, Virginia, unlocked the passcode-protected phone belonging to Naquin, who has refused to turn over the code to prosecutors.
A former LSU student accused of negligent homicide in the 2017 alcohol-related hazing death of fraternity pledge Max Gruver must give prosecut…
Naquin, 21, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is scheduled to stand trial July 8 in the September 2017 alcohol-related death of Gruver, 18, of Roswell, Georgia.
Prosecutors confiscated Naquin's phone in November 2017 through a court-authorized search warrant, but various attempts to unlock the phone had been unsuccessful until the FBI finally gained access to its contents.
"They have provided us with the raw data from the phone and a program to read the data," Moore said. "It will take us some time to go through."
The district attorney said prosecutors are only interested in the phone's data for a specific period of time, from when Gruver began pledging with Phi Delta Theta until the time the phone was seized.
An assistant district attorney in Moore's office who is not involved in criminal cases will act as a "clean team" to make sure no communications between Naquin and any attorney are examined, he said.
McLindon said the issue “is not about one person’s cell phone” but rather Fifth Amendment privacy rights.
“This is about privacy,” he said. “This is a big blow to privacy rights.”
A jury will be allowed to hear testimony that a former LSU student charged in the fatal 2017 alcohol-related hazing of Phi Delta Theta pledge …
In recently filed documents in the Naquin case, Assistant District Attorneys Dylan Alge and Morgan Johnson argued Naquin is trying to “extend the Fifth Amendment well past its boundaries.”
“The question presented here involves a delicate balancing. When should a person’s privacy right succumb to society’s legitimate interest in law enforcement?” they said. “The state agrees that it should be held to a standard when attempting to gain entrance into a person’s phone. That standard is particularized probable cause. When the state meets the probable cause standard, an accused no longer possesses the right to thwart valid law enforcement objectives simply by choosing a particular manner of storing the evidence.”
Alge and Johnson acknowledged that case law has not kept pace with advancing technology.
McLindon, however, has stated in court documents that the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution are “timeless.”
“The protections inked into the Bill of Rights were deemed so fundamental in nature, as to resist the changing winds of doctrine and endure for all time,” he said. “The Fifth Amendment protection against compulsory self-incrimination should not be supplanted by rapidly emerging technology.”
A former LSU student accused of negligent homicide in the 2017 hazing death of fraternity pledge Max Gruver doesn't have to give prosecutors t…
Gruver, a Phi Delta Theta pledge, died of alcohol poisoning following a hazing ritual called "Bible study," in which pledges were required to chug hard liquor if they answered questions about the fraternity incorrectly.
Gruver's blood-alcohol level was 0.495 percent, which is more than six times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana. His autopsy also detected a chemical found in marijuana, THC, in his system.
Phi Delta Theta is banned from LSU’s campus until at least 2033.
State District Judge Beau Higginbotham, who is presiding over the Naquin case, ordered Naquin in late January to turn over his phone passcode to prosecutors, but the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal froze that order on Feb. 22 while Naquin's attorneys appealed.
Moore's office sent a letter to the 1st Circuit earlier this week informing the court that Naquin's phone has been unlocked and data has been retrieved. The letter stated that the issue before the appellate court in the Naquin case is essentially moot.
Moore, however, said similar issues are sure to arise in future cases and the issue will have to be addressed by higher courts eventually.
Naquin's ex-roommate, Ryan Matthew Isto, 19, of Butte, Montana, and former LSU student Sean-Paul Gott, 22, of Lafayette, have pleaded no contest to misdemeanor hazing in the Gruver case and agreed to testify at Naquin's trial. Another ex-LSU student, Patrick Andrew Forde, 21, of Westwood, Massachusetts, also has promised to cooperate with prosecutors. Moore's office will decide later whether to prosecute him.
Gott eventually gave his cellphone passcode to prosecutors after they filed a motion to compel him to do so.
In both local and national passcode-related cases, Apple has cited customer privacy rights in refusing to help authorities access cellphones.
In a 2015 murder case, the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office and the FBI requested the company’s assistance in accessing the phone of 29-year-old Brittney Mills, who has fatally shot. Moore eventually found a private firm to unlock her phone’s contents, but after reviewing the material the case remains under investigation.