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State v. Branch

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District

July 22, 2013

STATE OF OHIO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CLEVELAND BRANCH, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

Appeal from Allen County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. CR2011 0456 Judgment

APPEARANCES:

Michael J. Short for Appellant

Jana E. Emerick for Appellee

OPINION

ROGERS, J.

{¶1} Defendant-Appellant, Cleveland Branch, appeals the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Allen County convicting him on three counts of rape and five counts of gross sexual imposition and sentencing him to a prison term of 70 years to life. On appeal, Branch argues that the trial court committed the following errors: (1) failing to suppress his statements that were allegedly obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution; (2) finding that the child victim was competent to testify at trial; (3) failing to grant him access to purportedly relevant child services files; (4) allowing another person to sit with the child victim during her testimony; (5) entering verdicts that were not supported by sufficient evidence; and (6) entering verdicts that were against the manifest weight of the evidence. Branch also claims that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

{¶2} On December 15, 2011, the Allen County Grand Jury indicted Branch on three counts of rape in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(1)(b), a felony of the first degree, and five counts of gross sexual imposition in violation of R.C. 2907.05(A)(4), a felony of the third degree. All three counts of rape included a specification that the victim was less than 10 years old at the time of the offenses. The indictment arose from Branch's alleged sexual abuse of S.B., his biological daughter, in 2010 and 2011. S.B. was between six and seven years old during this time period.

{¶3} This matter has four relevant stages: (1) the pre-trial proceedings relating to Branch's motion to suppress; (2) the pre-trial proceedings relating to the determination that S.B. was competent to testify at trial; (3) the pre-trial proceedings relating to the disclosure of files held by the Allen County Children Services Board; and (4) the trial. We discuss each of these stages separately below.

Branch's Motion to Suppress

{¶4} On January 5, 2012, Branch filed a motion to suppress his statements made during two police interrogations that occurred on November 11, 2011. He argued that the statements were taken in violation of his Miranda rights. The trial court conducted a suppression hearing on January 26, 2012. At the hearing, the following relevant evidence was adduced.

{¶5} Lima Police Department Detective Steven Stechschulte first testified regarding his role in interviewing Branch. He said that the department received a report on November 10, 2011 that Branch was alleged to have sexually abused S.B. As a result of the report, Detective Stechschulte was responsible for tracking Branch and bringing him into the department for an interview. Detective Stechschulte called Branch's cell phone and asked that he immediately turn himself into the police. However, Branch declined by saying that he wanted to obtain counsel before turning himself into the police. On November 11, 2011, Detective Stechschulte found Branch at his mother's house, arrested him, and transported him to the police department's headquarters. Branch's first interrogation session subsequently started in the early afternoon.

{¶6} Detective Stechschulte was not primarily responsible for interviewing Branch. Rather, he watched the interrogations from the "video monitor room" and he occasionally entered the interrogation room. Jan. 26, 2012 Tr., p. 10. Detective Stechschulte indicated that the first interrogation ended after four hours because "it was getting monotonous" and the officers "needed a break." Id. at p. 11. He denied that the interrogation session ended because Branch invoked his right to counsel. After the session ended, another detective led Branch to a holding cell. But, on the way to the cell, "Branch indicated to [the detective] that he wanted to have further conversations to explain himself" Id. There was a three to five minute break between Branch's removal from the interrogation room and his return. Once Branch returned, the second interrogation session commenced. It lasted for an additional two hours. Detective Stechschulte said that the police ordered and provided Branch with food and water during the course of the sessions.

{¶7} On cross-examination, Detective Stechschulte testified that the officers did not issue a Miranda warning before the second interrogation session. He explained that "[s]ince the break in the conversation was a matter of minutes * * * we considered [the second session] a continuation of the first interview." Id. at p. 15.

{¶8} Lima Police Department Investigator Robert Stoodt then took the stand. He indicated that he administered Branch's Miranda rights at the beginning of the first interrogation session. Investigator Stoodt testified that he used a written waiver form, which Branch signed after the ...


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