720 F.2d 1378 (5th Cir. 1983), 83-3119, United States v. Mejia

Docket Nº:83-3119.
Citation:720 F.2d 1378
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. German MEJIA, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:November 25, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 1378

720 F.2d 1378 (5th Cir. 1983)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


German MEJIA, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 83-3119.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

November 25, 1983

Page 1379

Glass & Reed, Robert Glass, New Orleans, La., for defendant-appellant.

John P. Volz, U.S. Atty., Jan M. Maselli, Robert T. Myers, Asst. U.S. Attys., New Orleans, La., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before WISDOM, REAVLEY and JOHNSON, Circuit Judges.

JOHNSON, Circuit Judge:

The defendant, German Mejia was convicted of importation of cocaine hydrochloride and possession of cocaine hydrochloride with intent to distribute. 21 U.S. Secs. 952(a)

Page 1380

and 960(a)(1). He appeals from that conviction. We affirm.

Mejia is a Colombian national who entered the United States from Colombia in September 1982. Upon his arrival at New Orleans International Airport, Mejia was questioned in the primary inspection area by a customs official. After routine preliminary questions, the customs officer sent Mejia to the secondary area because Mejia spoke no English and because he was arriving from a country known to be a source of narcotics.

During questioning through an interpreter in the secondary area, customs officers noted several discrepancies which aroused a suspicion that Mejia might be attempting to import controlled substances, such as cocaine. Among the observations made by customs officials were: (1) Mejia claimed to be a buyer on a buying trip for a store in Bogota, but he was not dressed as a businessman, had no personal business cards or business suits with him, and carried only one small suitcase (Mejia lives in Cali, Colombia); (2) Mejia said that he was spending two to three days in Houston, then going on to Los Angeles, but he had no hotel reservations in Houston and his confirmed airline ticket was for a flight leaving Houston for Los Angeles the same day; (3) he had no reservations in California; (4) Mejia was carrying $2000 in United States currency, mostly in $20 bills, but could not state the rate of exchange for pesos into dollars; (5) Mejia did not know how much his airline ticket cost although it was paid for in cash; (6) Mejia's airline ticket was sequentially numbered to and from the same travel agency as the ticket of another passenger on the same flight, who was also detained for questioning, and both tickets had the same itinerary and thirty-day expiration; (7) Mejia was abnormally calm, and his answers were similar to those of the other detained passenger; (8) Mejia's passport showed two prior entries within the previous fourteen months; (9) Mejia's hands were calloused; and (10) Mejia was carrying a chauffeur's license.

Based on their own experience with importation of drugs by ingestion of "balloons" 1 and courier profiles which reflected the experiences of customs agents at other ports of entry, the New Orleans agents asked Mejia if he would consent to abdominal X-rays. The consent form is written in both English and Spanish. The interpreter instructed Mejia to read the form, and when he had finished, read it to him in Spanish. She also explained what X-rays are and Mejia indicated that he understood. Mejia orally consented to the X-ray search and later signed a consent form.

The customs agent took Mejia to East Jefferson Hospital, where a nurse, through the interpreter, re-explained the procedure and took a short medical history. X-rays were then taken of Mejia's abdomen. The X-rays showed foreign bodies in Mejia's abdomen, and he was then arrested and given Miranda warnings. Mejia was transferred to Charity Hospital, where he subsequently excreted seventy-five balloons which contained a total of about 555.0 grams of cocaine hydrochloride. Mejia concedes that he imported the cocaine, but contends that his consent to the X-ray search was not voluntary and is therefore invalid.

Mejia contends that his consent was invalid because, under the totality of the circumstances, it was coerced. Mejia argues that the following facts support a finding of the subtle coercion forbidden by Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 2048, 36 L.Ed.2d 854 (1973): (1) the interrogation room was small and windowless, and the door to the room was closed during the interrogation; (2) the interrogator was in uniform and introduced himself by rank; and (3) the interrogator made no affirmative effort to put Mejia at ease. As further evidence of the involuntariness of his consent, Mejia notes that the interrogator made no affirmative effort to ensure that Mejia knew he had a right to

Page 1381

refuse to consent to the X-ray, and that the interrogator did not read the Miranda warnings to Mejia.

We conclude that Mejia's consent was not coerced. While the interrogation room is small and completely enclosed, the design of the room is intended to provide privacy during questioning. The conditions in the room were neither abnormal nor specially altered for...

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