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Rape suspect’s motion to suppress improperly granted

Legal News Reporter

Published: June 29, 2017

A Lorain County trial court improperly granted an accused rapist’s motion to suppress, the 9th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

Vittorio Soto was indicted on two counts of rape involving an alleged victim under 10.

Before his arrest, Soto was interviewed by Detective Tabitha Angello at the Lorain Police Department.

Soto gave a videotaped statement admitting the allegations.

Soto later claimed his statements during the interview should be suppressed because Angello did not inform him of his Miranda rights. In addition, Soto claimed the confession was induced by direct and indirect promises made by the detective, according to case summary.

The trial court granted his motion to suppress, determining that although the confession was not garnered by direct or indirect promises, Soto was in custody and entitled to Miranda rights when he made the confession.

On appeal, the state argued the trial court failed to make any findings regarding 10 facts supported by the detective’s testimony and/or videotaped confession to determine whether Soto was in custody during the interview.

In a 3-0 opinion, 9th District Judge Lynne S. Callahan agreed. She noted the findings of fact are based almost entirely on the content of the videotaped interview.

“The limited findings about the location and atmosphere of the interview are that it was held at the Lorain Police Department headquarters in a conference room with the door closed and Detective Angello was in her police uniform complete with a bade and gun,” Judge Callahan wrote. “The State argues there are multiple gaps in the findings of fact that are pertinent to the analysis of custodial interrogation.

“These facts include the size and the layout of the room, who was present in the room, the positioning of Mr. Soto and Detective Angello in the room, any obstructions to the exit, whether any restraints were used on Mr. Soto, when the door was open and closed during the duration Mr. Soto was in the room, how far the door was open, if the door was locked, whether Mr. Soto had access to his cell phone and whether he used it, how often and for how long Mr. Soto was alone in the briefing room, the length of the interview, whether Mr. Soto appeared voluntarily for the interview, Mr. Soto’s means of travel to the police station, whether anyone accompanied Mr. Soto to the police station and was waiting for him at the station, what happened to Mr. Soto at the conclusion of the interview, whether Mr. Soto was arrested, Detective Angello’s demeanor throughout the interview, and whether Detective Angelllo displayed her sidearm in a threatening fashion.

“All of these factors were discernible upon reviewing the videotape of the interview and the testimony of Detective Angello and were pertinent to the analysis of whether Mr. Soto was in custody. However, the trial court made no determinations regarding any of these facts. Consequently, this Court cannot determine the extent to which they were considered.”

In addition, Judge Callahan noted that the findings of fact had no discussion of the detective’s testimony, including telling him that “he wasn’t under arrest” and that she usually shuts the door for “noise and privacy” issues.

“Additionally, Detective Angello initially testified on cross-examination that she told Mr. Soto during the interview that he was free to leave. However, upon further cross-examination she conceded that the transcript of the interview does not contain any such statement by her,” Judge Callahan’s opinion stated.

The appellate panel also found the trial court applied incorrect law by determining that Soto was entitled to a reading of the Miranda rights warning during the non-custodial interview.

The panel rejected the state’s argument that the trial court erred by finding the detective was in her police uniform during Soto’s interview when she was actually dressed in her detective’s uniform.

The appellate court remanded the case, ordering the trial court to set forth its findings of fact regarding the omitted factors detailed by the state and any discrepancies in the evidence and witness credibility.

Ninth District judges Donna Carr and Thomas Teodosio concurred.

The case is cited State v. Soto, 2017-Ohio-4348.