This Court has reviewed the video, and throughout the interview, Mr. Wood answered the detective’s questions clearly and appropriately, was able to recount information upon request, and engaged in conversation with the detective while displaying no visible signs of intoxication from drug use.

 

State v. Wood

2023 – Ohio – 2045

Fifth District Appellate Court

Stark County, Ohio

June 21, 2023

 

The Child Sexual Predator was the Victim’s Uncle

In early 2022, Massillon police were investigating allegations Mr. Christopher Wood had engaged in sexual activity with his niece when she was seven or eight years old. One of the allegations involved Mr. Wood engaging in anal intercourse with her when they were sleeping next to each other on the floor of her grandmother’s house. A second allegation involved Mr. Wood touching the child’s vaginal area and digitally penetrating her with his fingers.

Was the Interview Non-Custodial?

On Friday January 21, 2022, Mr. Wood voluntarily came to the Massillon Police Department for an interview with Detective David McConnell. Prior to speaking with Mr. Wood, Det. McConnell informed Mr. Wood he was free to leave at any time. The detective told Mr. Wood the door to the room was closed but unlocked.

The interview lasted approximately thirty minutes. Det. McConnell noted no signs Mr. Wood might be intoxicated during the interview. Although the detective did not specifically ask about drug or alcohol use, Mr. Wood explained during the interview he had used drugs in the past, specifically during the time the incidents occurred with his niece, but had “gotten clean” since that time. Mr. Wood made incriminating statements to Detective McConnell concerning the allegations of sexual abuse of his niece.

Indicted for Rape

Mr. Wood was indicted by the Stark County Grand Jury with two counts of rape in violation of O.R.C. §2907.02(A)(1)(b)(B). Mr. Wood moved to suppress the statements he made to Det. McConnell on the basis the statements were involuntary because he used drugs on the day of the interview.

 

Motion to Suppress based on Mr. Wood’s Self-Proclaimed Impairment

The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress. The parties submitted a video recording of the interview to the trial court for review. Det. McConnell testified he observed no signs of intoxication in Mr. Wood during the interview. Mr. Wood testified he used opiates on a daily basis for four to five years. He testified on the morning of the interview, he had crushed Vicodin pills and snorted them. Mr. Wood testified he was not coherent during the interview. Mr. Wood testified “in his mind” he saw the detective leaning forward and pointing a finger at him, and Mr. Wood testified he felt threatened. However, Mr. Wood admitted the video did not support this testimony concerning the detective’s conduct during the interview. Mr. Wood testified his drug use caused him to be overemotional during the interview and rendered him unable to hear or understand the questions. He testified he could not focus, as evidenced by the fact he kept his head down during the interview.

 

Mr. Wood’s Brother is Denied from Testifying on Impairment

Mr. Wood sought to call his brother to the stand, who had watched the video at Mr. Wood’s attorney’s office, and in counsel’s understanding would testify as to whether or not Mr. Wood was intoxicated by drug use during the interview. The trial court did not allow Mr. Wood to call his brother to testify.

 

Plea Agreement and Sentence

Following the hearing, the trial court found Mr. Wood was not intoxicated by drug use during the interview, and overruled the motion to suppress. The State amended one charge of rape to gross sexual imposition. As to the second charge of rape, the State amended the charge to remove the special finding the victim was under the age of ten, while maintaining the statutory language the victim was under the age of thirteen. Mr. Wood pled no contest to the charges as amended and was convicted. The trial court sentenced Mr. Wood to the stiff sentence of ten years to life incarceration for rape and to five years’ incarceration for gross sexual imposition, to be served concurrently.

Appeal

Was a Miranda Warning Required?

Mr. Wood first argues the trial court erred in finding Miranda warnings were not required. Mr. Wood’s motion to suppress did not raise this issue, nor did he argue at the suppression hearing Miranda warnings were required. Throughout the suppression hearing, Mr. Wood argued only that his statement was involuntary because it was made while he was under the influence of drugs.

 

Miranda Appeal was Tardy

A criminal defendant is required to raise a Miranda violation in a pretrial motion to suppress or the issue is waived. State v. Montalvo 2018-Ohio-3142, citing State v. Moody, 55 Ohio St.2d 64, 66 (1978). The issue of whether a confession is voluntary and whether a suspect has been subject to custodial interrogation so as to require Miranda warnings are analytically separate issues. See., e.g. State v. Fowler, 2016-Ohio-5940.

 

Trial Court Determined that Miranda was NOT Required 

The trial court sua sponte found Miranda warnings were not required because Mr. Wood was not subjected to a custodial interrogation However, because Mr. Wood failed to raise the issue in the trial court, the State was not placed on notice the failure to give Mr. Wood Miranda warnings was an issue at the suppression hearing, and accordingly the State was not required to bring forth evidence demonstrating the interview was noncustodial in nature and Miranda warnings were not required. Despite the trial court’s consideration of the issue, we find Mr. Wood has waived any claim of a Miranda violation by his failure to raise the issue in the trial court.

 

Trial Court Determined Mr. Wood’s Testimony was Self Serving and of ‘Little Merit’

Mr. Wood next argues the trial court erred in finding his statement was voluntary, maintaining he was under the influence of drugs at the time of the interview. With respect to this issue, the trial court found:

The Court finds the majority of the defendant’s testimony to be self- serving and of little merit. Additionally, the Court has had the opportunity to view the defendant’s behavior on the recorded video and to compare it to the defendant’s behavior and testimony during the hearing. Based upon such observations, the Court finds that the defendant’s mannerisms, speech, comprehension, and expression during the hearing were the same as those present during his interview. As such, the Court finds that the defendant was not under the influence of drugs or otherwise impaired at the time of the interview with Detective McConnell.

 

No Testimony that Mr. Wood Ingested Narcotics in Jail

In a footnote, the trial court noted at the time of the hearing, Mr. Wood had been in jail for nearly ninety days, and no evidence was presented he abused drugs prior to his testimony at the suppression hearing.

 

Contrast of Christopher Live and Christopher on Video

The trial court was in a unique position to compare Mr. Wood’s demeanor and behavior during his testimony at the suppression hearing with the video of the statement given to Det. McConnell, and is in a better position than this court to determine the credibility of witnesses. See Fanning, supra (weight of the evidence and credibility of witnesses are primarily for the trier of fact at suppression hearing). This Court has reviewed the video, and throughout the interview, Mr. Wood answered the detective’s questions clearly and appropriately, was able to recount information upon request, and engaged in conversation with the detective while displaying no visible signs of intoxication from drug use. Det. McConnell testified he had interacted with people under the influence of drugs and alcohol in his work as a police officer, and Mr. Wood did not appear intoxicated. Further, during the interview Mr. Wood admitted to past drug use, but told the detective he had stopped using drugs. We find the trial court did not err in finding Mr. Wood’s statement was voluntary and overruling the motion to suppress.

 

Mr. Wood’s Appeal is Splintered by the Fifth District Appellate Court

The first assignment of error is overruled.

Mr. Wood also filed an appeal because the trial court did not permit his brother to testifying as to his sobriety based upon watching the video.  The Fifth District Appellate Court also dismissed that appeal, though it is not detailed in this article.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Wood, 2023 – Ohio – 2045.

State v. Wood, 2023 – Ohio – 2045 was issued by the Fifth District Appellate Court and is binding in the following Ohio Counties: Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Miranda – Law enforcement is required to obtain a Miranda waiver if the officer conducts a custodial interview of the suspect. The first requirement is that the suspect must be in custody.  The custody of the suspect can either be physical or constructive.  For more on Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436 (1966) see Miranda – Both a Noun and a Verb.
  2. Non-Custodial Interview – On Friday January 21, 2022 Sexual Predator Mr. Christopher Wood voluntarily came to the Massillon Police station. The case does not indicate if Mr. Wood was transported to the station by law enforcement or drove there himself.  If Mr. Wood was transported to the station by officers or detectives, his mode of transportation would have likely been explained.  Was he handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser?  If the answer to this is yes, it is unlikely the courts would have determined Mr. Wood was at the station voluntarily.  If Mr. Wood was asked to go to the station and transported in the front seat of an unmarked car without handcuffs that would include a lot of factors as to why he would not have been in custody.  If Mr. Wood drove to the station himself then told he was free to go at any time to include being in a room that was not locked, then all of these factors lead to a reasonable conclusion that Mr. Wood was NOT in custody.
  3. Self-Serving and of Little Merit – Wood’s appeal focused primarily that he was impaired during the interview. During the Motion to Suppress “He testified on the morning of the interview, he had crushed Vicodin pills and snorted them.”.  If Mr. Wood was successful on his claim that he was impaired, then he may have succeeded to get his confession suppressed.  However, both the trial court and the Fifth District Appellate Court summarily dismissed this feeble argument.  The trial court held “The Court finds the majority of the defendant’s testimony to be self- serving and of little merit.”. The trial court was able to contrast Mr. Wood’s video interview with his in-person court testimony and did not find any significant contrast indicating he was impaired with snorted Vicodin or any other substance.
  4. Pre-Sent Arms! Massillon Police Detective David McConnell should be highly commended for his non-custodial interview and obtaining a confession from child sexual predator Christopher Wood. Well done Detective McConnell!

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