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United States v. Tate

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

August 22, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CRAIG TATE, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO ACCEPT DEFENDANT'S GUILTY PLEA

          ROBERT E. LARSEN United States Magistrate Judge.

         On August 18, 2016, I held a change-of-plea hearing after this case was referred to me by United States District Judge Gery Fenner. I find that defendant's plea was voluntary and therefore recommend that it be accepted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 10, 2015, an indictment was returned charging defendant with one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B) (count one); one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (count two); one count of possessing a stolen firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(j) and 924(a)(2) (count three); and one count of possessing a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2) and 924(e)(1). Judge Fenner referred this case to me for conducting a change-of-plea hearing and issuing a report and recommendation on whether to accept the plea. The hearing was held on August 18, 2016. Defendant was present, represented by Carl Cornwell. The government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Justin Davids. The proceedings were recorded and a transcript of the hearing was filed on August 18, 2016.

         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 February 10, 2015, an indictment was returned charging defendant with one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B), and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Tr. at 4-5).

         2. The statutory penalty for count one is not less than 5 years in prison and not more than 40 years, not more than $5 million fine, not less than 4 years supervised release, and a $100 special assessment (Tr. at 5). The statutory penalty for count two is not less than 5 years in prison consecutive to any sentence imposed on count one and up to life in prison, not more ...


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