7 F.3d 1512 (10th Cir. 1993), 92-6375, United States v. Griffin

Docket Nº:92-6375.
Citation:7 F.3d 1512
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Teresa Mechell GRIFFIN, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:October 26, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 1512

7 F.3d 1512 (10th Cir. 1993)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Teresa Mechell GRIFFIN, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 92-6375.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

October 26, 1993

Page 1513

Submitted on the briefs. [*]

John E. Green, U.S. Atty., Kim Taylor, Leslie M. Kaestner, Asst. U.S. Attys., Oklahoma City, OK, for plaintiff-appellee.

David P. Henry, Oklahoma City, OK, for defendant-appellant.

Before BRORBY, BARRETT, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

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BRORBY, Circuit Judge.

Ms. Griffin was convicted of eight drug related counts including a conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine base (crack) and was sentenced inter alia to four concurrent sentences of life imprisonment. Ms. Griffin appeals asserting her motion to suppress should have been granted; improper closing argument; and numerous sentencing errors. We reverse and remand.


Ms. Griffin was the common law wife of Juan Carlos Angulo-Lopez. 1 Together they managed a cocaine distribution ring. They obtained cocaine in Houston and transported it to Oklahoma City where the cocaine was "cooked" or converted to crack. They then acted as wholesalers distributing the crack to retail sellers. The charges against Ms. Griffin all arose from this cocaine distribution activity.

Ms. Griffin's participation in the cocaine distribution business came to an end when she and her companion, Bedina Coleman, 2 were apprehended at the Oklahoma City airport terminal with approximately $38,500 in cash from cocaine sales. Ms. Griffin confessed and led agents to her car where a large amount of cocaine was found. Ms. Griffin filed a motion to suppress this evidence, which, following an evidentiary hearing, was denied by the district court. Ms. Griffin appeals this decision arguing principally that her confession was invalid as she was in custody and the police failed to advise her as required by Miranda. 3 Ms. Griffin also raises the propriety of statements made by the prosecution in closing argument and of her sentence. 4

Evidence before the district court at the suppression hearing was sharply conflicting. However, as the trial court found Ms. Griffin's testimony incredible, we look to the evidence supporting the Government's case and give to this evidence the benefit of every reasonable inference.

Two members of the Oklahoma City Police Department testified. The first, who was a member of the patrol division at the airport, testified he had been told by airline officials two weeks prior that two females were making frequent trips to Houston. They always showed up just a few minutes before departure, bought one-way tickets, and paid for them in cash. This raised the officer's suspicions as such conduct fit the "drug profile." On the evening in question, he observed Ms. Griffin and her companion, Bedina Coleman, do exactly this. The two women also matched descriptions provided by the airline employees. Shortly thereafter, he received a call from gate security that they found and confiscated three .357 magnum bullets from Ms. Griffin's purse but allowed her and her companion to board the plane. The officer, concerned about a corresponding .357 pistol being in the baggage, checked at the ticket counter to learn if a gun had been declared. As it had not and as he had seen the two women arrive with baggage, he asked the gate supervisor to board the plane and ask the defendant and her companion to step to the door of the plane. The officer, while standing on the jetway, talked to the two women standing in the plane. He asked them if they were together and they replied "No." He asked to examine their tickets and Ms. Coleman had both in her purse. He asked if they had checked luggage and both replied "No." He then showed them their baggage claim receipts and the bullets, told them his concerns and requested their consent to search their luggage, which they readily gave. They also agreed to accompany him while he searched their luggage.

The three then went to the briefing room of the airport police office where the women again consented to a baggage search. Prior

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to their arrival, the bags had been set aside and a drug sniffing dog had alerted to Ms. Griffin's bag. When the officer opened Ms. Griffin's bag, he found large bundles of currency totaling approximately $38,500. He asked the women three or four times who owned the currency and received no reply. He told the women they were free to go and were not under arrest, but he had to investigate the drug tainted money before he could release it. The officer testified he did not arrest or have probable cause to arrest as there was no law against possessing drug tainted money. A money count began and Ms. Griffin was told she was free to remain to verify the count. About that time, the second police officer arrived.

The second officer, who was a detective in the drug interdiction unit, testified he was called by the first officer. He arrived about thirty minutes later where he found three uniformed policemen and the two women in the same location as the baggage search--a "fairly large room" in the police area. Policemen were counting the money. The first officer told him Ms. Griffin was most likely to be involved. The second officer then asked Ms. Griffin if he could speak to her about the money and if she would accompany him to an office. She agreed. The second officer took her to his private office in the police area which was 8' or 10' by 10'. The officer sat behind his desk with his back to the door, which remained open, and Ms. Griffin sat next to his desk. The officer sat between her and the door. The officer testified he asked her who the money belonged to, and Ms. Griffin took a deep breath and hung her head. He then asked her if she was employed, and she said "No." As he knew she had purchased an airline ticket, he asked her how she was making a living. He then asked if the money was narcotic related and again Ms. Griffin took a deep breath and hung her head. He then asked why she was coming to Oklahoma City and traveling around, and she replied she lived in Houston and had friends in Oklahoma City. He asked her again who the money belonged to and was told it was a subject's in Houston. She was asked who and took a deep breath, put her head down, and did not answer. She was asked again if the money was narcotic related and she said it was.

She was then asked how she had obtained the money and where it came from. She apparently gave a lengthy answer touching upon her drug related activities, including communication via a pager. He asked and received permission to examine her pager. He asked her why she had sold one kilogram of cocaine powder for $20,000 knowing that crack is more expensive than powder. He asked her where her car was and if she had narcotics in her car. She initially put her head down and did not answer but then stated her car still contained cocaine. He asked her how much cocaine she had in her car. She estimated...

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