249 F.3d 1094 (9th Cir. 2001), 99-50752, United States v. Butler

Docket Nº:99-50752
Citation:249 F.3d 1094
Case Date:May 17, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 1094

249 F.3d 1094 (9th Cir. 2001)




No. 99-50752

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 17, 2001

Argued and Submitted April 6, 2001

Page 1095

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1096

George W. Hunt, San Diego, California, for the defendant-appellant.

Gregory A. Vega, United States Attorney, Jonah H. Goldstein, Assistant United States Attorney (briefed), and Patrick K. O'Toole, Assistant United States Attorney, San Diego, California, for the plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California William B. Enright, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CR-99-01183-WBE

Before: Robert Boochever, Barry G. Silverman, Circuit Judges, and Lloyd D. George,1 District Judge.

Silverman, Circuit Judge

We once again consider at what point a "border inspection detention" may have evolved into "custody" triggering the requirement of Miranda warnings prior to questioning. In this case, while agents conducted an intensive inspection of the defendant's car, he was taken to the inspection station's security office, patted-down, and placed in a locked holding cell where his shoes and belt were confiscated. We hold that upon being placed in the holding cell, Butler was in custody and should have been advised of his rights prior to any further questioning, whether or not probable cause to arrest had yet been developed. Although his subsequent statements in response to questioning should have been suppressed on Miranda grounds, the district court's failure to do so was harmless in light of overwhelming evidence of guilt. We affirm.

I. Facts

On April 13, 1999, Butler entered the United States from Mexico at the Tecate Port of Entry. U.S. Customs Inspector James Chasse, working at the primary inspection area, asked Butler where he had been. Butler stated that he had been in Mexico visiting his girlfriend. Chasse asked Butler how long he had spent in Mexico, and Butler stated "two to three days." Chasse noticed that the only thing in the car besides Butler was a picture; he did not see an overnight bag or toiletry kit.

Page 1097

The lack of luggage aroused Chasse's suspicions. Butler showed Chasse a picture of patio furniture and stated that he had gone to Mexico looking for a patio set. Chase asked Butler who the car belonged to, and Butler responded that it belonged to his friend Daniel. Chasse asked Butler for Daniel's last name, but Butler said he did not know it. Chasse then escorted Butler to the secondary inspection area for further inspection.

At secondary, U.S. Customs Inspector Albert Hallor looked inside the car and also noticed the lack of any personal items and that it was extremely clean. Hallor asked Butler who owned the car. Butler could not provide the name of the owner but said that he was going to buy it. Hallor asked Butler about the purpose of his trip to Mexico. Butler replied that he went to see his girlfriend and look at patio furniture. When Hallor asked Butler to provide a location in Mexico where he had looked for the furniture, Butler looked away and remained silent for about thirty seconds. Hallor repeated the question but Butler did not provide a response. When Hallor asked Butler for the keys to the car, he noticed that Butler's hands were shaking. Hallor asked Butler to step out of the car. He frisked him, then escorted Butler into the foyer of the security office.

Hallor took Butler into the pat-down room and conducted a more thorough search, then placed him in a locked "open-screen" cell inside the pat-down room and removed his shoes and belt. Hallor then drove Butler's car to the impound lot, where fourteen packages of marijuana were found concealed in the front driver's side door, front passenger door, trunk and rear quarter panels. The fourteen packages weighed 46.8 pounds and had a retail value of $37,440.

Customs Senior Inspector Leroy Steinauer testified that he contacted Butler in the holding cell in the security office. Steinauer had not yet been made aware that a drug-detection dog had alerted to the presence of drugs in Butler's car or that any drugs had been found. Without first having advised Butler of his rights, and while Butler remained in the holding cell, Steinauer asked Butler the purpose of his trip to Mexico; Butler stated that he had gone to visit his girlfriend. Steinauer asked Butler how long he was in Mexico; Butler stated from Sunday to Tuesday. Steinauer asked Butler if he remained in Tecate the entire time, and Butler responded, "Yes." Steinauer asked Butler who the car belonged to, and he replied that it belonged to a friend. Steinauer asked Butler if he had maintained possession of the car the entire time he was in Mexico, and Butler stated that he had.

Customs Special Agent Jeffrey Deal was called to the Tecate Port of Entry to transport Butler to jail. He testified that he took biographical information from Butler and collected his personal items. Butler did not have a checkbook, credit card or any type of formal identification. Butler asked Deal to which jail he would be taken. Deal answered that Butler was going to the Metropolitan Correctional Facility. Butler asked whether it was state or federal, and Deal replied that it was federal. Butler asked if he could go to a state jail instead, and Deal said that he could not. Butler then asked Deal if "there was any way" he could go to a state jail and Deal said no. Butler then asked "how much time" he was looking at, and Deal stated that he didn't know. Butler then said, "I messed up."

Prior to trial, Butler moved to suppress the statements he made while being questioned in the holding cell by Inspector Steinauer without first having been advised of his Miranda rights. Butler did not challenge the admissibility of the statements he made previously to Chasse and

Page 1098

Hallor, or the statements he made to Deal on the way to jail. The district court found as a matter of fact that Butler was in custody at the time he was questioned by Steinauer, but that the Miranda requirements had not attached because the agents had not yet developed probable cause to arrest Butler at the time he was placed in the cell.

At trial, Butler testified about his trip to Mexico to see his girlfriend, that he went to the beach in Rosarito, Mexico with her, stayed with her aunt Sandra, and discussed with her aunt the purchase of patio furniture. He testified that while he was at her aunt's house, a person named Oscar appeared and offered to sell him his red Nissan Sentra. Butler paid Oscar a $300 down payment (he still owed $500-$800), and then attempted to drive the car back to the United States to see if it could pass a smog test. He knew nothing about the marijuana found in the car at the Tecate Port of Entry. Butler denied telling any of the customs inspectors that he had maintained possession of the car the entire time he was in Mexico. He also denied telling the inspectors where he was coming from with the car.

Butler was found guilty by a jury of two counts: importation of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§§§ 952, 960, and 841(a)(1). He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 41 months imprisonment.

II. Jurisdiction and Standards of Review

We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291. Whether a person is entitled to Miranda warnings is an issue of law to be reviewed de...

To continue reading