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State v. Soto

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

June 19, 2017

STATE OF OHIO Appellant
v.
VITTORIO SOTO Appellee

         APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. 14CR090763

          DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and NATASHA RUIZ GUERRIERI, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellant.

          MICHAEL J. DUFF, Attorney at Law, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          LYNNE S. CALLAHAN, Judge

         {¶1} Appellant, the State of Ohio, appeals from the judgment of the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas, granting Appellee, Vittorio Soto's, motion to suppress. For the reasons set forth below, this Court reverses.

         I.

         {¶2} Mr. Soto was indicted on two counts of rape involving a person less than 10 years of age. Prior to his arrest, Mr. Soto was interviewed by Detective Tabitha Angello at the Lorain Police Department. During the interview, Mr. Soto gave a videotaped statement wherein he admitted the allegations. Mr. Soto moved to suppress all of his statements made during the interview, arguing that Detective Angello did not inform him of his Miranda rights and his confession was induced by direct and indirect promises made by Detective Angello during the interview. The trial court concluded that Mr. Soto's confession was not induced by direct or indirect promises, but he was in custody and entitled to Miranda rights when he made his confession. The trial court granted Mr. Soto's motion to suppress.

         {¶3} The State timely appeals the trial court's ruling and raises three assignments of error.

         II.

         FIRST ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING MR. SOTO'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS BECAUSE THE FINDINGS OF FACT ARE NOT SUPPORTED BY COMPETENT, CREDIBLE EVIDENCE.

         {¶4} The State argues that the trial court committed two errors relative to the findings of fact. First, the State asserts the trial court's findings of fact regarding Detective Angello's uniform are not supported by competent, credible evidence. Second, the State maintains the trial court failed to make certain findings of fact that were supported by the evidence. This Court disagrees with the first argument, but agrees with the second argument.

         {¶5} A motion to suppress evidence presents a mixed question of law and fact. State v. Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, ¶ 8. "When considering a motion to suppress, the trial court assumes the role of trier of fact and is therefore in the best position to resolve factual questions and evaluate the credibility of witnesses." Id., citing State v. Mills, 62 Ohio St.3d 357, 366 (1992). Thus, a reviewing court gives deference to and "must accept the trial court's findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence." Burnside at ¶ 8, citing State v. Fanning, 1 Ohio St.3d 19, 20 (1982). "Accepting these facts as true, the appellate court must then independently determine, without deference to the conclusion of the trial court, whether the facts satisfy the applicable legal standard." Burnside at ¶ 8, citing State v. McNamara, 124 Ohio App.3d 706, 710 (4th Dist.1997). Therefore, this Court grants deference to the trial court's findings of fact, but conducts a de novo review of whether the trial court applied the appropriate legal standard to those facts. State v. Booth, 151 Ohio App.3d 635, 2003-Ohio-829, ¶ 12 (9th Dist).

         Detective Angello's uniform

         {¶6} The State argues the trial court's finding of fact that Detective Angello was in a uniform during Mr. Soto's interview is not supported by competent, credible evidence. "[A]n appellate court's review of the trial court's findings of fact looks only for clear error, giving due deference as to the inferences drawn from the facts by the trial court." State v. Hunter, 151 Ohio App.3d 276, 2002-Ohio-7326, ¶ 24 (9th Dist), citing State v. Russell, 127 Ohio App.3d 414, 416 (9th Dist.1998).

         {¶7} The trial court found that during the interview Detective Angello was "dressed in her police uniform, with her badge on and * * * carrying her sidearm." On cross-examination, Detective Angello testified that she was not wearing her "actual police uniform" but was wearing her "detective outfit" which included a black shirt with a gold emblem saying "Lorain Police" Additionally, she testified she was "designated as a police officer, " and had a badge and her service revolver on her at the time of the interview. The video depicts Detective Angello wearing a black polo shirt with a large gold emblem shaped like a badge on her upper left chest and khaki pants.

         {¶8} The State takes issue with the trial court's finding that Detective Angello was wearing "her police uniform." While Detective Angello was not wearing a patrolman's uniform, the evidence before the trial court reflected she was dressed in her detective's uniform. The shirt displayed a prominent emblem identifying Detective Angello as a member of the Lorain Police Department. Additionally, Detective Angello stated her clothing identified her as a police officer. Her clothing, combined with the presence of her badge and sidearm functionally created a "police uniform." Accordingly, the trial court's finding of fact that Detective Angello was wearing a police uniform is supported by competent, credible evidence.

         Incomplete facts

         {¶9} The State also argues the trial court failed to make any findings regarding ten facts that were supported by Detective Angello's testimony and/or the videotape of the interview and such facts were relevant to making a determination of whether Mr. Soto was in custody during the interview. Mr. Soto concedes the trial court's findings of fact are silent as to these ten facts, but argues these facts are not relevant. Additionally, Mr. Soto asserts this ...


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