946 F.2d 162 (1st Cir. 1991), 90-1717, United States v. Uricoechea-Casallas

Docket Nº:90-1717.
Citation:946 F.2d 162
Party Name:UNITED STATES, Appellee, v. Jaime URICOECHEA-CASALLAS, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:October 11, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 162

946 F.2d 162 (1st Cir. 1991)

UNITED STATES, Appellee,

v.

Jaime URICOECHEA-CASALLAS, Defendant, Appellant.

No. 90-1717.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 11, 1991

Heard May 5, 1991.

Page 163

Norberto Colon, by appointment of the Court, for defendant, appellant.

Jose A. Quiles, Asst. U.S. Atty., with whom Daniel F. Lopez Romo, U.S. Atty., and Ernesto Hernandez-Milan, Asst. U.S. Atty., were on brief for appellee.

CAMPBELL, Circuit Judge, BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge, and TORRES, [*] District Judge.

TORRES, District Judge.

This is an appeal by Jaime Uricoechea-Casallas ["Uricoechea"] of his conviction for various drug trafficking offenses and of the sentence imposed by the District Court. It requires us to consider the admissibility of evidence seized in a "customs search" of Uricoechea's luggage and whether Uricoechea was entitled to reductions in his offense level for "acceptance of responsibility" and/or for being a "minor participant" within the meaning of §§ 3E1.1(b) and/or 3B1.2(b) of the federal Sentencing Guidelines. For reasons hereinafter stated, we find Uricoechea's arguments to be frivolous and, therefore, affirm both his conviction and sentence.

BACKGROUND

Uricoechea is a resident of Bogota, Colombia. On October 28, 1989, he was a passenger on an Iberia Airlines flight from Bogota to Madrid, Spain via the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When the plane landed in San Juan, the passengers disembarked and waited in the "in-transit" passengers' lounge. During that time, United States Customs Inspectors boarded the aircraft for the purpose of identifying suspicious luggage contained in the baggage hold. One item included in that category was an unusually heavy garment bag bearing a claim tag with Uricoechea's name on it.

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The garment bag was removed from the aircraft and placed on the tarmac where inspectors probed the sides of the garment bag with a screwdriver. The probing disclosed a white powdery substance that a field test indicated was cocaine. The inspectors then cut open the sides of the bag and found approximately one thousand, one hundred and thirty-six grams of cocaine concealed in its metal frame.

When Uricoechea attempted to reboard the plane, he was arrested and searched. In his wallet, inspectors found $775 in cash and three packets containing a white powdery substance which field tests indicated was cocaine.

According to government agents, Uricoechea gave several different explanations for the presence of cocaine in his luggage. At the time of his arrest, he told the arresting officer that, due to financial difficulties, he had purchased the cocaine and planned to sell it in Spain to a woman known only as Isabelle. Two days later, Uricoechea told another agent that he was acting only as a courier and had instructions to deliver the cocaine to an unidentified person in Spain. At trial, Uricoechea denied making either of those statements and testified that he had been coerced into making the trip by a Mr. Meira who had loaned him money and asked him on several occasions to deliver cocaine to Spain. According to Uricoechea, Meira threatened Uricoechea's life if Uricoechea did not make the trip.

Uricoechea was convicted of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); importing cocaine into the customs territory of the United States in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 952(a); and bringing cocaine into the customs territory of the United States aboard an aircraft without listing it on the cargo manifest in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 955. The District Court imposed concurrent sentences of 78 months on each count.

Uricoechea now seeks to have his conviction vacated on the ground that the evidence found in his garment bag and wallet should have been excluded because it was seized pursuant to an unlawful search. Alternatively, he contends that the District Court erred in calculating his sentence by failing to award two level reductions in his offense level for acceptance of responsibility and for being only a minor participant as set forth in §§ 3E1.1(b) and 3B1.2(b) of the federal Sentencing Guidelines.

DISCUSSION

I. THE SEARCH OF THE GARMENT BAG

It is well established that routine border inspections do not violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches even when conducted without a warrant or probable cause. United States v. Garcia, 905 F.2d 557, 559-60 (1st Cir.1990); United States v. Braks, 842 F.2d 509, 511-12 (1st Cir.1988). It is equally well established that searches of passengers at Luis Munoz Marin Airport are border searches. Garcia, 905 F.2d at 559; United States v. Mejia-Lozano, 829 F.2d 268, 271 (1st Cir.1987); United States v. McKenzie, 818 F.2d 115, 117, 119-20 (1st Cir.1987).

Uricoechea does not challenge these principles. Instead, he advances two arguments in support of his contention that the search of the garment bag was illegal. First, he asserts that Customs Regulations do not authorize searches of luggage that is inside an...

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