953 F.2d 461 (9th Cir. 1991), 91-50005, United States v. Mejia

Docket Nº:91-50005.
Citation:953 F.2d 461
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jair De Jesus MEJIA, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:December 24, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 461

953 F.2d 461 (9th Cir. 1991)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Jair De Jesus MEJIA, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 91-50005.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 24, 1991

Argued and Submitted Nov. 6, 1991.

As Amended Feb. 19, and

March 25, 1992.

Page 462

Hector C. Perez, Santa Ana, Cal., for defendant-appellant.

Page 463

Nancy B. Spiegel, Michael W. Fitzgerald, Asst. U.S. Attys., Narcotics Section, Crim. Div., Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before SNEED, BEEZER and TROTT, Circuit Judges.

SNEED, Circuit Judge:

Jair de Jesus Mejia appeals his conviction on one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Mejia contests the trial court's adverse rulings on his motion to suppress evidence. He also contends the court erred in refusing to depart downward from the Sentencing Guidelines, and argues that the court's failure to grant him his right of allocution constitutes reversible error. We affirm.

I.

BACKGROUND

  1. Facts

    Mejia was one of several individuals who attempted to become a wholesaler of cocaine. He helped arrange shipments totalling 2251 kilograms of cocaine, the second largest amount ever seized in California. Mejia's role was a key one. He temporarily stored boxes of cocaine received from Colombia at his rented house and transported loads of the boxes by van from his house to a meeting place at a Howard Johnson's hotel. From the Howard Johnson's, the boxes were loaded onto two tractor trailers for interstate shipping.

    Mejia also assisted another conspirator, Jose Rodriguez-Zapata, whose role was similar to Mejia's own. Rodriguez-Zapata temporarily stored boxes of Colombian cocaine at his house and delivered the boxes by pickup truck to a meeting place in a supermarket parking lot. Rodriguez-Zapata left the pickup truck parked in the lot. Later, Mejia used his van to bring a third codefendant, Guillermo Fernandez, to the supermarket lot. Fernandez drove Rodriguez-Zapata's pickup back to the Howard Johnson's and loaded the boxes of cocaine onto a third tractor trailer for shipping. Howard Johnson's was the marshalling point for the cocaine being handled by Mejia, Fernandez, and Rodriguez-Zapata.

    Investigating officers of the Anaheim Police Department and other law enforcement agencies apprehended the cocaine traffickers on December 16, 1989, after two days' intensive surveillance. At about 1:05 P.M., the officers stopped the first two tractor trailers on the highway. They questioned the drivers, Eduardo Alvarez and Ramon Quintana, along with Alvarez's passenger, Jose Sosa. At no time did the officers draw their guns or raise their voices, nor did they indicate that the suspects were under arrest. After several minutes of questioning, during which the suspects behaved cooperatively, Alvarez and Quintana each signed consent-to-search forms. The officers searched the trucks and found boxes of cocaine on board. The three suspects were arrested, received Miranda warnings, and made incriminating statements.

    It was approximately 9:30 P.M. when plainclothes investigators arrived at Mejia's house. Mejia's wife, Gloria Cajigas, answered the door. The officers identified themselves as police and said they had come pursuant to a narcotics investigation. Cajigas let them in. The officers asked whether anyone else was home, and Cajigas answered, "Jair." She indicated that her husband was asleep in the bedroom. The officers asked her to wake him up. She walked to the bedroom, and did not protest when two officers followed her in. She awoke Mejia. The officers identified themselves to Mejia, and asked if they could talk in another room. All proceeded to the kitchen, where Mejia subsequently gave his signed consent to search the house. The officers found empty boxes of the same type found in the two tractor trailers searched earlier, and empty duffle bags of a type commonly used to transport cocaine. Mejia received Miranda warnings and made incriminating statements.

    The officers next moved to arrest Fernandez and Rodriguez-Zapata. At about 10:40 P.M., officers questioned Fernandez at the Howard Johnson's. Fernandez gave them consent to search his hotel room and the third tractor trailer, which was still

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    parked in the hotel parking lot. The officers found boxes of cocaine on the trailer. Fernandez was arrested, received Miranda warnings, and made incriminating statements. Later, Rodriguez-Zapata was arrested at his house.

    Throughout their investigation, the officers observed that defendants' conduct was consistent with known practices of cocaine traffickers and inconsistent with legitimate trucking operations. The officers observed the three tractor trailers parked empty for three days in the Howard Johnson's lot. They observed the defendants hastily loading U-Haul boxes onto the trucks. The defendants made no attempt to secure the loaded cargo to prevent its shifting during transit. Even after the cargo was loaded, the trucks remained nearly empty. Furthermore, officers saw the defendants make numerous pay phone calls to digital pagers, engage in countersurveillance driving, and hold a business meeting at the Howard Johnson's hotel restaurant, a meeting at which no food or drink was ordered. Finally, officers determined that Mejia's van was registered to a post office box.

  2. Proceedings Below

    Mejia was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846. Mejia timely filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the seized cocaine, the items found at his house, and his own and his codefendants' statements, arguing that the evidence had been illegally obtained. At the hearing on the motion, the trial court heard testimony from some of the investigating officers, although not from the ones who had filed the police report on the search of Mejia's house. The court ultimately denied Mejia's motion to suppress. Mejia then conditionally pleaded guilty, explicitly reserving his right to appeal the court's rulings on the...

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