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State of Iowa v. Paulino Perez Mondragon

February 13, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Wapello County, Annette J. Scieszinski, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Danilson, J.

Defendant appeals his convictions for first-degree robbery and assault while participating in a felony, and his sentence on the robbery charge. AFFIRMED.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Danilson and Bower, JJ.

Paulino Perez-Mondragon appeals his convictions for first-degree robbery, in violation of Iowa Code section 711.2 (2007), and assault while participating in a felony, in violation of section 708.3, and his sentence on the robbery charge. He claims the district court should have granted his motion to suppress statements he made to police officers. We affirm defendant's convictions, finding there was harmless error. We also affirm his sentence on the robbery charge.

I. Background Facts & Proceedings

In the evening on February 28, 2008, Juana Zavala was working at

Corazon Latino, a store which was located at 412 East Main Street in Ottumwa, Iowa.*fn1 A man came in wearing dark clothing and a ski mask. The man put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her. He took her to the back of the store and tied her hands. After the man left, Zavala managed to call the police. Jewelry and about $3000 had been taken from the store.

It had snowed that evening, and police officers saw footprints in the snow which indicated two people had been running away from Corazon Latino. The officers followed the footprints to 602 East Main Street, about two blocks away. Andrea Barton was standing outside the door, and she stated her two roommates, Perez-Mondragon and Leonardo Rufin-Fones, had just arrived home. Barton consented to let the officers into the home. She informed the officers that her roommates spoke little English. In a common living area officers found a pair of wet shoes with a tread that matched one set of footprints leading away from the store. Perez-Mondragon acknowledged they were his shoes. In the bathroom, officers found two ski masks.

The officers asked Perez-Mondragon to accompany them to the police station. He was taken to an interview room at about midnight and left on his own for about an hour while officers attempted to get a Spanish-speaking interpreter. The officers told him he was free to leave at any time. During this time Perez-Mondragon apparently took a short nap, manicured his fingernails, played with a deck of cards, and chewed gum while waiting in the room.

When the interpreter arrived at about 1:00 a.m., Officer Mark Milligan read the defendant his Miranda rights in English while the interpreter told them to him in Spanish. In addition the defendant was given a card to read which had the Miranda rights in English and Spanish. Officer Milligan then asked Perez-Mondragon, "Do you understand?" The defendant replied, "Yes but . . . what is it about?" The officer asked again, "Does he understand his rights?" and the defendant nodded his head. The officer asked a third time, "But he does understand his rights, right?" and the defendant replied, "Well yes . . . but . . . I mean I do not understand what it is what you want to investigate . . . what about." The defendant was then asked if he knew why he was there, and he stated "No."

About one hour into the interview, Sergeant Nick Wadding joined officer Milligan in questioning Perez-Mondragon. The officers told defendant that RufinFones had confessed to the robbery and implicated him, which was not a truthful statement. The defendant continued to deny any involvement in the robbery. Eventually, the defendant asked for a minute alone to think, and when the officers returned he stated he and Rufin-Fones had entered the store wearing ski masks and holding knives, but he denied threatening the victim or taking anything from the store. Perez-Mondragon was arrested at the end of the interview, which had lasted about two hours.

While the defendant was being interviewed at the police station, other officers executed a search warrant at his apartment. They seized the two ski masks, as well as two pairs of shoes. Officers found jewelry and cash under a mattress, and two knives.

Perez-Mondragon was charged with first-degree robbery and assault while participating in a felony.*fn2 He filed a motion to suppress. After a hearing, the district court denied the motion. The court found Barton had authority to consent to a search of the common areas of the apartment, including the room where Perez-Mondragon's shoes were found. The court also found officers had sufficient probable cause to request a search warrant. Additionally, the court denied the defendant's request to suppress his statement admitting that the shoes found belonged to him.

The defendant, with new defense counsel, filed a second motion to suppress, which was also denied by the district court.*fn3 The court found Perez-Mondragon was in custody at the time of the police interview, he was informed of his Miranda rights, and he acknowledged understanding those rights. The court found the conditions of the interview did not make defendant's statements ...

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