What Happened on Remand: Pandering Charges Dismissed, Guilty Plea to One Count of Retaliation, Sentence of Time Served. State v. Castagnola

Date Case was remanded from Supreme Court of Ohio: April 28, 2015

Final Resolution of this case: September 30, 2016

Case Background

David Maistros, law director and prosecutor of Twinsburg in Summit County, charged Nicholas Castagnola with selling alcohol to minors. Two months later, Maistros found his and his wife’s cars had been “egged,” and the side mirror of his wife’s car vandalized.

The police learned from an informant that Castagnola had bragged to the informant in text messages that he was responsible for the damage to the cars. The informant agreed to wear a wire, and to record a conversation with Castagnola at Castagnola’s house. In that recorded conversation, Castagnola admitted he and another man had egged and damaged the cars, and that he had “looked up” Masitros’ address on court records.

With the text messages and recording in hand, a Twinsburg police detective sought a warrant to search Castagnola’s house. Instead of attaching the recording or a transcript of the conversation between the informant and Castagnola to the search warrant affidavit, the detective paraphrased what happened, stating that Castagnola said he’d found Maistros “online in the clerk of courts.” Nothing further was provided in the affidavit about this alleged online search.

The search warrant was issued, and the search led to the seizure of a number of items, including two computers. While searching one of the computers for evidence of retaliation, a forensic examiner came across what appeared to be child pornography. After securing a second warrant, the examiner discovered images and videos containing child pornography.

Castagnola was charged with of two counts of retaliation, one count of criminal damaging, one count of vandalism, one count of criminal trespass, and one count of criminal tools (the retaliation case) and, in a separate case (the pandering case) ten counts of pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor.

Castagnola filed a motion to suppress in both cases, arguing that the first search warrant was not supported by probable cause because nothing in the affidavit implicated a computer in his house. He argued he had never used the term “online” in his conversation with the informant, so the detective’s use of that term in the affidavit was an unwarranted inference drawn by the detective that usurped the role of the neutral magistrate. That made the first warrant bad, and since the first warrant led to the second, all evidence from both had to be suppressed as fruit from the poisonous tree.

The trial court found that since the detective had acted with objective good faith, excluding the evidence was not required. Castagnola was convicted of all retaliation charges by a jury and of all the pandering charges in a bench trial. He was sentenced to thirty months in prison and classified as a Tier II sex offender. On appeal, in a split decision on the suppression issue, the Ninth District Court of Appeals found that the search warrant was supported by probable cause, and rejected the argument that the affidavit was false or misleading, untruthful, or reckless. The dissent found probable cause lacking.

Merit Decision

On April 28, 2015, in a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that the initial search warrant issued in the case was invalid because of lack of probable cause and lack of particularity, and therefore the evidence seized from the computer had to be suppressed. The case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Read the analysis of the merit decision here.

What Happened on Remand

The state decided not seek a retrial on the pandering charges related to the child pornography. On July 31, 2015, Judge Tom Parker of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas vacated Castagnola’s conviction in the pandering case, and his designation as a Tier II sex offender, and dismissed that case.

The state argued that the conviction in the retaliation case should stand, notwithstanding the ruling from the Supreme Court of Ohio, because of the overwhelming remaining evidence, including Castagnola’s own admissions to a confidential informant, and confession to the Twinsburg police department. Finding that it did not have the authority simply to reinstate the conviction, the trial court refused to allow that, and instead concluded that the retaliation case had to be retried.

The retaliation case was set for trial and continued several times. Finally, on September 26, 2016, Castagnola changed his plea in the case to guilty to one felony count of retaliation. The remaining counts in the retaliation case were dismissed. Common Pleas Judge Scot Stevenson, now presiding over the case, sentenced Castagola to time served (18  months) on the retaliation charge, plus restitution of $1000 to the law director and village police department.  No other fines or court costs were imposed due to Castagnola’s indigence. No post release control was imposed.  All of this was journalized September 30, 2016.

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