Dennis Paul Hudgens, 68, of Frenchville, who was serving a 30 to 60 years prison sentence after being convicted at trial of multiple counts of possession of child pornography, was released from jail after the state Superior Court dismissed his conviction.

On Dec. 15, the superior court, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that Judge Paul Cherry was in error when he did not suppress the evidence the state police obtained from the search of Hudgens on Dec. 20, 2018. The superior court ruled the search violated Hudgens’ rights of privacy under the Constitution of Pennsylvania and dismissed Hudgens’ conviction.

The superior court ruling was written by Judge Daniel McCaffery with Judge Megan McCarthy King concurring. Judge Marie McLaughlin wrote a dissenting opinion.

Clearfield County District Attorney Ryan Sayers filed appeals to the decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, but Sayers’ final appeal was dismissed on Nov. 16 and Hudgens was released.

According to previous articles in The Progress, a state police investigator in Harrisburg discovered someone was sharing child pornography at a computer located at 509 Keewayden Rd. in Covington Township. The investigator notified regional state police authorities.

A search warrant was obtained, and it was discovered Anthony James Terrizzi, 56, of Frenchville, who was living in the residence had thousands of images and videos of child pornography on his computers.

Hudgens, who was living in a tent behind the residence, was also searched and found with an SD card in his pocket containing thousands of images and hundreds of videos of child pornography.

It was also discovered Terrizzi sexually assaulted a local 10-year-old girl and took photographs and videos of him assaulting the girl, which were also found on Hudgens’ computer and SD card.

Terrizzi was charged for child pornography and sexual assault of a child and accepted a guilty plea. He was sentenced to serve 70 to 120 years in state prison by Judge Cherry in 2020.

Hudgens took the case to trial, and a jury found him guilty in 2018.

However, the superior court ruled that the inclusion of language of “all persons present” to be searched in the search warrant obtained by the state police was illegal. The court objected to the inclusion on this sentence in the search warrant:

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“I also respectfully request the authority to search any vehicle or vehicles or the body of any person or persons which are present at the time the search warrant is executed or which may arrive on the property during the course of the execution of the search warrant. This is requested due to the size and portability of many of today’s storage media devices.”

The superior court ruled that the state constitution has broader privacy protections than the U.S. Constitution, and the warrant should have specified which people would be searched unless it could be justified.

“APP (all persons present) warrants are ‘only permissible when the affidavit of probable cause contains sufficient facts to justify a search of everyone found on the premises,’” the superior court wrote.

Although the courts have allowed “all person present” search warrants in the past, those cases were for drug cases where the location was a place of suspected drug activity, the superior court stated.

But in this case, the court states there was no “nexus” between Hudgens or the tent he was staying in and the purpose of the investigation because there was no evidence that Hudgens was present when the illegal files were produced or downloaded from the internet.

“The constitutions of Pennsylvania and the United States must always concern us more than any one person or act, no matter how abhorrent the act or alarming the individual. Because we conclude that the police had no particularized cause to search Appellant, we must reverse the trial court’s conclusion as to the propriety of the search,” the state superior court wrote.

In her dissenting opinion, Judge Maria McLaughlin wrote that she believes the majority changed the rules law enforcement must follow in getting a search warrant.

“I believe that the Majority has expanded the requirements necessary for issuance and approval of an all persons present warrant. Pennsylvania law does not require a finding that the illegal activity so permeate the location that persons not involved would find it noxious to linger there, see Maj. Mem. at 15, nor even that the location be dedicated to the illegal activity,” McLaughlin wrote.

The Progress asked Sayers if this ruling by the superior court changes the rule law enforcement officers have to abide by. Sayers said he disagrees with the two judges who issued the ruling. One of his concerns when they filed their appeal is the courts were “moving the goalposts” for law enforcement, especially when it comes to child pornography investigations because oftentimes all the police have is an address and not a name.

But Sayers said a subsequent court ruling has ameliorated his concerns with a “hyper-technical” ruling that allows similar search warrants as long as they are slightly more specific and include different language.

Sayers said these rulings weren’t enough to overturn the superior court’s ruling in this case. He called this a tragedy because a “sick” man has been released from prison.

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