Judge nixes ‘confession’ in sexual battery case

WOODSTOCK – A judge ruled Friday that a teenager’s sexual battery case may move forward without the defendant’s recorded statements.

Domingo Reynoso-Bautista, 18, appeared in Shenandoah County Circuit Court where he stands charged with aggravated sexual battery of a child under the age of 13. Judge Dennis L. Hupp held a hearing on a defense motion to suppress evidence, specifically the audio recording of an interview conducted by Sheriff’s Office investigators with Reynoso-Bautista prior to the defendant’s arrest.

The court played the 45-minute interview recorded at the Sheriff’s Office in the late hours of June 2 that extended into the early morning of June 3. Towards the end of the interview Reynoso-Bautista eventually said he had touched the alleged victim in her private parts over her clothes. The statement came late in the interview after one of the investigators told Reynoso-Bautista that “I don’t know” would not be an answer to his questions.

Reynoso-Bautista’s attorney, Allison Neal, asked the court to suppress the statement and the recording, arguing that her client was, essentially, in the custody of the investigators during the interview. Reynoso-Bautista was not allowed to have anyone else with him at the interview, Neal argued. Her client had to go through two locked doors to get to the interview room, she added. One of the two investigators testified that he did not tell the defendant he could leave at any time. Reynoso-Bautista, who moved to the United States from his native Guatemala about three years ago, does not speak English as his first language.

The Sheriff’s Office provided an interpreter for Reynoso-Bautista during the interview. However, a certified interpreter testified for the defense at the hearing that the person who translated for Reynoso-Bautista paraphrased the part of one investigator’s recitation of the Miranda rights but omitted the section granting the defendant the right to remain silent. At one point, when asked if he understood his rights, Reynoso-Bautista responded “kinda.”

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola argued that Reynoso-Bautista understood the English language more than he let on and pointed out that during the interview he responded to some of the questions in English.

Hupp spent some time considering the evidence and arguments before returning to the courtroom to rule in favor of the defense and granted Neal’s motion to suppress. Hupp noted that the defendant went to the interview on his own volition, albeit after investigators made contact him late at night. However, Hupp noted that the interview changed as the second investigator began his line of questioning and at one point told the defendant that “I don’t know” wouldn’t be an answer.

The trial remains scheduled for Feb. 21 unless Campola appeals his ruling on the defense motion, Hupp said.