Appeals court upholds suppression of statements in child molesting case

The grant of an alleged child molester’s motion to suppress a statement he made to police was not in error because the statement was obtained during a custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings, an appellate court has ruled.

In State of Indiana v. Axel Domingo Diego, 20A-CR-227, Domingo Diego was charged with two Class A felony counts of child molesting and one count of Class C felony child molesting. When Domingo Diego filed a motion to suppress his statement to police, a hearing was held on the issue, leading the Cass Circuit Court to grant his motion.

The trial court concluded that State of Indiana v. Ernesto Ruiz, 123 N.E.3d 675 (Ind. 2019) “controls this case” and that Domingo Diego’s statement made to police could not be used against him. But the state brought this interlocutory appeal, posing the question of whether Miranda warnings were unnecessary because Domingo Diego was not in custody during his interrogation.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of Domingo Diego’s motion to suppress, finding that the trial court did not err when it granted the motion because the statement was obtained during a custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings.

First, the appellate court concluded that it was “clear” the trial court’s order suppressing Domingo Diego’s statement to police was supported by substantial evidence of probative value.

Domingo Diego’s freedom of movement was curtailed to the degree associated with an arrest, and he was subjected to inherently coercive pressures such as those at issue in Miranda. The police determined and controlled the environment in which the interrogation took place, i.e., Domingo Diego was removed from his girlfriend and placed in a closed room in a police station with (a Seymour Police Department) employee sitting between Domingo Diego and the closed door. Although Domingo Diego was told he was not under arrest and was free to leave, he was also told that he ‘needed’ to be there to answer Det. (Troy) Munson’s questions. He was never told that he was free to refuse to answer Det. Munson’s questions, nor was he told that he could leave through the secured police station door without police assistance,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the appellate court.

Additionally, the appellate court noted that Domingo Diego was subjected to prolonged questioning that lasted 40 minutes and that the questioning was “persistent and accusatory.” It further found that Munson repeatedly stated as fact that Domingo Diego had engaged in sexual contact with the victim, repeatedly accused Domingo Diego of lying when he denied such activity, and repeatedly asked questions that “focused on encouraging [Domingo Diego] to admit to [Det. Munson’s] description of the wrong-doing.”

“The trial court did not err in finding that the facts in this case, like those in Ruiz, supported an order suppressing the defendant’s statement,” the appellate court concluded.

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