U.S. v. Gonzalez-Basulto, GONZALEZ-BASULT

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation898 F.2d 1011
Docket NumberNo. 89-1450,D,GONZALEZ-BASULT,89-1450
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Edilbertoefendant-Appellant.
Decision Date09 April 1990

Paul D. Lazarus, Entin, Schwartz, Margules & Lazarus, Miami, Fla., for defendant-appellant.

Philip Police, Asst. U.S. Atty., Ronald F. Ederer, and LeRoy Morgan Jahn, Asst. U.S. Atty., San Antonio, Tex., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Before CLARK, Chief Judge and WISDOM and SMITH, Circuit Judges.



Edilberto Gonzalez-Basulto (Gonzalez) was convicted of conspiracy to possess and possession of more than five kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute it. 21 U.S.C. Secs. 841(a)(1), 846. He challenges his conviction and his sentence. We affirm.


On December 18, 1988, border patrol agents stopped Gonzalez at the Sierra Blanca, Texas permanent immigration checkpoint. Gonzalez was driving a refrigerated tractor-trailer rig. An agent asked Gonzalez if he was an American citizen. Gonzalez nervously responded in broken English that he was an American citizen. The agent detected what he believed to be a Cuban accent and asked Gonzalez what he was hauling. Gonzalez replied with the Cuban word for oranges, "naranjas," rather than with the Puerto Rican word, "chinas." The agent referred Gonzalez to the secondary inspection area to verify his claim of United States citizenship.

Gonzalez and Jose Rodriguez-Minozo (Rodriguez) exited the truck. An agent asked Rodriguez and Gonzalez in English to produce immigration documentation. Rodriguez did not answer. The agent asked again in Spanish. Rodriguez still did not answer and looked nervously about at the agents and the drug-sniffing dogs present at the checkpoint. Rodriguez was referred to other agents for additional questioning. Gonzalez produced immigration documentation.

The agent asked Gonzalez in Spanish whether he would mind opening the trailer for an inspection. Gonzalez replied, "No problem." Gonzalez unlocked and opened the trailer, which contained white boxes of oranges and lemons. A drug-sniffing dog and his handler were hoisted into the trailer. The dog soon detected an odor. However, the truck's refrigeration unit startled the dog. The agents brought in another dog, which alerted on a row of brown boxes. The agents opened the boxes and discovered cocaine. Gonzalez was arrested and charged.

Gonzalez moved to suppress the cocaine on the grounds that his consent to the search was involuntary or alternatively that the search exceeded the scope of his consent. The district court denied the motion. Gonzales was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 235 months imprisonment, five years of supervised release, and $100 in special assessments. Gonzalez now appeals his conviction and sentence. We affirm.


Gonzalez argues that the stop and the search violated his rights under the fourth amendment. He claims he did not freely and voluntarily consent to the search but merely acquiesced in the agents' authority. He argues alternatively that the search exceeded the scope of his consent because he only expected the agents to take a brief look in his trailer. We reject these contentions.

Border patrol agents may briefly detain motorists at permanent immigration checkpoints to question them about their citizenship. United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556-62, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 3082-85, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116 (1976). The agents may refer motorists to the secondary inspection area without any "particularized reason." Id. at 563, 96 S.Ct. at 3085. Stopping Gonzalez and referring him to the secondary inspection area therefore did not violate his constitutional rights.

The voluntariness of Gonzalez' consent to the search is a question of fact determined by examining the totality of the circumstances. United States v. Gonzales, 842 F.2d 748, 754 (5th Cir.1988). Six primary factors guide the district court in making this determination:

(1) the voluntariness of the defendant's custodial status; (2) the presence of coercive police procedures; (3) the extent and level of the defendant's cooperation with the police; (4) the defendant's awareness of his right to refuse consent; (5) the defendant's education and intelligence; and (6) the defendant's belief that no incriminating evidence will be found.

United States v. Galberth, 846 F.2d 983, 987 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 109 S.Ct. 167, 102 L.Ed.2d 137 (1988). The district court's finding that consent was voluntarily obtained cannot be overturned on appeal unless it is clearly erroneous. Gonzales, 842 F.2d at 754.

The agents did not brandish any weapons or threaten Gonzalez in any way. Gonzalez was not placed under arrest until after the search uncovered the cocaine. Gonzalez cooperated with the agent who requested permission to search by responding "no problem" to the request and by unlocking and opening the trailer doors. While the agent admitted that he did not inform Gonzalez of his right to refuse to consent, the agent emphasized that he did not put any kind of pressure on Gonzalez to get his consent....

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