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United States v. Zapata-Tamallo

decided: November 9, 1987.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,APPELLEE,
v.
GONZALO ZAPATA-TAMALLO, REYMUNDO QUILEZ, VICTOR MORALES-DORAN, ESTELA CALLE, MARIA BETANCOURT, DEFENDANTS, GONZALO ZAPATA-TAMALLO, VICTOR MORALES-DORAN, ESTELA CALLE, AND MARIA BETANCOURT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from judgments of conviction entered after a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Henry Bramwell, J., convicting appellants of conspiracy to possess narcotics with intent to distribute, and of a substantive count of possession with intent to distribute. Affirmed.

Kaufman, Pierce, and Miner, Circuit Judges.

Author: Per Curiam

Per Curiam:

This case arises out of a series of events that took place on August 25, 1986, in Queens, New York. Detective Michael Connors of the New York City Police Department, accompanied by Special Agent Henry Santiago of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"), while on a routine daytime surveillance observed three individuals, appellants Gonzalo Zapata-Tamallo ("Zapata"), Victor Morales-Doran ("Morales"), and Estela Calle ("Calle") at a public telephone. After Zapata had finished making his call, and along with his two companions had begun to walk away from the pay phone, Connors, still observing the trio, heard the sound of a beeper coming from the direction of appellants. Shortly thereafter, Connors noticed Zapata and his two companions heading back toward the phone. Connors drove around the block, stopped his car, and began watching the trio through binoculars. He saw Zapata holding a black object, which appeared to be a beeper, as he placed a call from the phone. After finishing the call, the trio began walking toward Queens Boulevard.

Connors subsequently located the pair near the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and 48th Street. At that point, Calle entered a store near the intersection; Morales remained outside, standing near a parking lot; and Zapata began walking up and down the street in front of a row of stores. Ten minutes later, Zapata met with an unidentified person, who handed over a blue bag. Zapata then walked over to Morales and gave him a "high five." Subsequently, Calle emerged from the store, and the three crossed the street to enter a building. Connors and Santiago then initiated a surveillance of the entrance of the building.

A short time later, Zapata walked out of the building, encountered one Reymundo Quilez, and both required to the apartment. Connors and Santiago followed Zapata and Quilez inside by pulling the door out of Zapata's hand as he was closing it. After a brief conversation with Zapata, Quilez, and one Carmen Ochoa, the two officers, Zapata, and Ochoa went upstairs to Apartment 5-E.

Although there was disputed testimony as to the following events, it appears that the officers entered the apartment and identified themselves to Maria Betancourt. She informed them that the apartment was hers, but that Zapata and the others were guests. As they entered, the officers noticed Morales lying on the couch, and Calle sitting on the arm of the couch. Next to the couch was a clear plastic bag filled with a white powder subsequently identified as 25.13 grams of cocaine. Additionally, Connors noticed on the dining room table two one-dollar bills containing a white powder subsequently identified as less than one gram of cocaine.

Betancourt accompanied the officers into the kitchen where she signed a consent from authorizing the agents to search the apartment. Connors searched the bedroom while the suspects were detained in the living room. Under the bed, Connors found a blue duffle bag, which he later identified as the same one he had earlier seen in Zapata's possession; it was found to contain seven kilograms of cocaine. Before the search was completed, Connors had located a beeper belonging to Calle, and a two-gram scale; neither item, however, bore the fingerprints of Zapata or Morales.

Zapata, Morales, Calle, and Betancourt were all subsequent indicted for conspiracy to possess narcotics with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and for a substantive count of possession with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the defendants were convicted of all charges.

The appellants now contest their convictions, inter alia, on the following grounds: (1) Betancourt contends that the court erred by denying her motion to suppress the fruits of the search, because her consent to the search was not knowing and voluntary; (2) Zapata contends that the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress the fruits of the duffle bag search; (3) Morales and Calle contest the sufficiency of the evidence supporting their convictions; and (4) Morales argues that the district court erred by not instructing the jury that it could have found him guilty of the lesser included offense simple possession.

Finding no merit in any of these contentions, we now affirm.

Betancourt's Motion to Suppress

Betancourt argues that the district court erred by denying her motion to suppress the fruits of a search of her apartment, because her consent to the search was not knowing and voluntary. The record indicates, however, that Agent Santiago testified at the suppression hearing that: he had asked Betancourt if he could search the apartment; he gave her a Spanish-language consent form; he explained her rights to her in Spanish; she appeared to read the form; she signed the form; and at no time were guns drawn or voices raised. Although Betancourt's testimony at the hearing differs substantially from that of the agent, the trial court was free to decide that the agent's testimony was more credible, and this court will not overturn a district court's finding that a defendant voluntarily consented to a search, unless the finding ...


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