United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO ACCEPT DEFENDANT'S GUILTY PLEA
ROBERT E. LARSEN, Magistrate Judge.
On October 27, 2014, I held a change-of-plea hearing after this case was referred to me by United States District Judge Fernando Gaitan, Jr. I find that defendant's plea was voluntary and therefore recommend that it be accepted.
On October 27, 2014, defendant waived indictment and an information was filed charging defendant with one count of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341.
Judge Gaitan referred this case to me for conducting a change-of-plea hearing and issuing a report and recommendation on whether to accept the plea. On October 27, 2014, defendant appeared before me with his counsel, Robert Young. The government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Nelson. The proceedings were recorded and a transcript of the hearing was filed on October 28, 2014.
II. AUTHORITY OF THE COURT
The authority of federal magistrate judges to conduct proceedings is created and defined by the Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636. Besides certain enumerated duties, the Act provides that a "magistrate may be assigned such additional duties as are not inconsistent with the Constitution and the laws of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(3).
The Eighth Circuit, following the reasoning of several other circuits, has held that magistrate judges may preside over allocutions and pleas in felony cases, so long as certain procedural safeguards are met. United States v. Torres, 258 F.3d 791, 795-96 (8th Cir. 2001); see also United States v. Dees, 125 F.3d 261 (5th Cir. 1997), United States v. Williams, 23 F.3d 629 (2d Cir. 1994). The reasoning applied by the appellate courts relies upon previous opinions by the United States Supreme Court that conducting jury voir dire falls within a magistrate judge's "additional duties" when the defendant has consented. United States v. Torres, 258 F.3d at 795 (citing Peretz v. United States, 501 U.S. 923 (1991), Gomez v. United States, 490 U.S. 858 (1989)).
In Peretz, the Supreme Court held that when a defendant consents to a magistrate judge's involvement in voir dire, he waives any objection based on his right to have an Article III judge hear his felony case. 501 U.S. at 936. Moreover, the availability of de novo review by a district judge preserves the structural guarantees of Article III. United States v. Torres, 258 F.3d at 795. Applying the Peretz holding and the reasoning of Williams, the Eighth Circuit held that the acceptance of guilty pleas bears adequate relationship to duties already assigned by the Magistrates Act in that "[a]n allocution is an ordinary garden variety type of ministerial function that magistrate judges commonly perform on a regular basis." Id . Plea allocutions are substantially similar to evidentiary proceedings explicitly assigned by the Act. Id. at 796 (citing United States v. Dees, 125 F.3d at 265). Even if taking a guilty plea were considered to be of greater importance than those duties already assigned, the consent of the defendant saves the delegation. Id . "Consent is the key." Id . (quoting United States v. Williams, 23 F.3d at 633).
The Torres court also addressed the implications of such a delegation for Article III's case and controversy clause. Id . Because plea proceedings are submitted to the district court for approval, the court retains ultimate control over the proceedings and is not bound to accept a plea taken by a magistrate judge. Id . Moreover, the district court's de novo review of the plea proceedings contributes to the ministerial nature of the magistrate judge's role. Id.
Based on the above, I find that, with the consent of the defendant, the district court may properly refer a felony case to a Magistrate Judge for conducting a change-of-plea hearing and issuing a report and recommendation on whether the plea should be accepted.
III. FINDINGS OF FACT
1. On October 27, 2014, an information was filed charging defendant with mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1314, and one forfeiture allegation pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 981(a)(1)(D), 982(a)(4), and 1341, and 28 U.S.C. § 2461(c) (Tr. at 5-8). Defendant understood the charges in the information (Tr. at 5, 8).
2. The statutory penalty for mail fraud is not more than 20 years in prison, not more than $250, 000 fine, not more than three years supervised release, and a $100 special assessment (Tr. at 8). The forfeiture count involves an amount in excess of $313, 000 ...