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United States v. Molina-Gomez

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

March 20, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JORGE L. MOLINA-GÓMEZ, Defendant, Appellant

Page 14

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. José A. Fusté, U.S. District Judge.

REMANDED.

Leonardo M. Aldridge-Kontos, Assistant Federal Public Defender, with whom Héctor E. Guzmán-Silva, Jr., Federal Public Defender, Héctor L. Ramos-Vega, Assistant Federal Public Defender, and Liza L. Rosado-Rodríguez, Research and Writing Specialist, were on brief, for appellant.

Juan Carlos Reyes-Ramos, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Torruella, Lipez, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 15

TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

Jorge L. Molina-Gómez (" Molina" ) appeals the district court's order denying his motion to suppress both the heroin discovered in hidden compartments of his laptop computer and Sony Playstation game console

Page 16

and some of the statements he made to United States Customs and Border Protection (" CBP" ) officers upon returning to Puerto Rico from Colombia. While we find no Fourth Amendment violation, Molina's statements made during further secondary questioning regarding drug trafficking activity should have been suppressed. As a result, his case must be remanded so that he can opt to withdraw his plea and proceed to trial should he choose to do so.

I. Background[1]

On August 6, 2012, at approximately 11:00 p.m., Molina arrived at the Luis Muñoz Marí n International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, via Panama, after a five-day trip to Colombia. This was the third time in four months in which Molina had taken a short trip to Colombia, a known source of illegal narcotics. As a result, the CBP computer system flagged Molina for questioning.

Upon deplaning, Molina was referred to secondary inspection, where he claimed one carry-on bag, one computer case holding an ACER laptop computer, and one small bag containing a Sony Playstation. The carry-on bag contained personal belongings, three cell phones, and a Western Union money gram in the amount of one million Colombian pesos (approximately $560) sent to Molina at the Hotel Galaxy the day after he arrived in Colombia by a Colombian man named Rodolfo Trochez Sardí .

In response to the CBP officers' questions, Molina explained that he traveled to Cartagena, Colombia, for four days to visit a friend, " Camilo," whom he met through another friend named Cynthia. He stated that he purchased his ticket for $500 on the COPA Airlines website using a credit card, but that he did not have the credit card with him. Molina told the CBP officers that while in Colombia he stayed at the Hotel Galaxy and did not leave his hotel room, but rather just ate and played games on his Playstation.

These answers raised the CBP officers' suspicions, and further questioning and investigation revealed problems with Molina's story. For example, Molina did not know either Camilo or Cynthia's last name. And, contrary to his assertion, Molina did not purchase his plane ticket online via credit card, but rather it was purchased in cash at a Cali, Colombia travel agency. Indeed, all three of Molina's Colombian trips were booked with cash through this travel agency.

Molina was then escorted to a small (approximately ten-foot-by-ten-foot), windowless room containing one desk where he was patted down and subjected to further secondary questioning. He was in this room for approximately two hours and was asked about his trip to Colombia, his intentions upon reentry, and drug trafficking generally. The record is unclear as to what specifically the CBP officers asked and what Molina's responses were. He did, however, tell the officers that he had to work the following morning at 8:00 a.m., and he denied any involvement in drug trafficking.

While this questioning was ongoing, other CBP officers were inspecting Molina's belongings. They X-rayed his laptop, Playstation, and three cell phones and ...


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