Gomez v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Sable Communications of California

DOCKET NO.: 88-5014
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 490 US 858 (1989)
ARGUED: Apr 24, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1989

Joel B. Rudin - on behalf of the Petitioners
Michael K. Kellogg - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Gomez v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 24, 1989 in Gomez v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 88-5014, Jose Gomez v. The United States and Number 88-5158, Diego Chavez-Tesina v. The United States.

Joel B. Rudin:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is here on a petition of certiorari to review a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

At issue is whether the Federal Magistrates Act authorizes a magistrate to conduct jury selection in a felony trial over the Defendant's objection and if so, whether that procedure is unconstitutional.

The government concedes that the Magistrate's Act provides no felony trial jurisdiction for magistrates, but to save this conviction, it argues that despite this Court's cases, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Speedy Trial Act and common usage referring to jury selection as a part of trial, that Congress nevertheless understood jury selection to be a pretrial duty and intended it to be authorized by the pretrial duty section of the act.

We think Congress had no such intention, that Congress understood that jury selection was part of trial and that when it precluded magistrates from exercising felony trial jurisdiction, it understood that preclusion to encompass the jury selection phase of trial.

The Magistrate Act recognizes the right of litigants to trial before a district court judge.

It makes an exception to that right only where the litigants explicitly consent, and then only in misdemeanor, petty offense or civil cases.

Congress nowhere in the statutory language or in the legislative history gives any indication of any intent to make an exception for the jury selection phase of a felony trial.

As a matter of fact, in the civil trial section of the Magistrates Act, Congress provides for litigants to consent to any or all proceedings in a civil case to be conducted by a magistrate, suggesting that Congress considered the possibility that a magistrate might conduct a part of the civil trial, yet there is absolutely no language indicating that Congress had any understanding that a magistrate might conduct any part of a felony trial.

Particularly where Congress was so careful to require consent for misdemeanor, petty offenses and for civil trials, it doesn't make sense that Congress would have permitted magistrates to conduct the critically important jury selection phase of trial, which this Court has repeatedly referred to as integral to trial, without the party's consent... the Defendant's consent.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Counsel, the Court did uphold the use of the magistrate for suppression hearings in criminal cases.

Joel B. Rudin:

Yes, ma'am.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Often those also require determinations of credibility of witnesses, and certainly in many cases can determine the outcome of the trial itself.

They're pretty important aspects of the procedure, and yet we upheld the use of magistrates there.

Joel B. Rudin:

Yes, Your Honor.

Of course, that procedure was explicitly authorized by the statute.

This procedure is not authorized by the statute and there is the threshold--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Unless you say that it's an additional duty, within the additional duty language.

Joel B. Rudin:

--Yes, Your Honor, and we say that it's not an additional duty for a number of reasons.

One of the most important reasons is the reasoning that I just alluded to, which is that despite the language used in the additional duties clause, Congress... Congress and the government concedes that the trial provisions of the act preclude any felony trial jurisdiction and there's no indication that Congress intended an exception for jury selection.

I think that the... the importance... importance of the government's concession is even more than that, because in effect what the government concedes is that you have to look to the balance of the act and to look to the duties that Congress explicitly authorized or chose not to authorize, and it would defeat the purpose of this comprehensive statute, which Congress amended in 1976 precisely for the purpose of clarifying and defining the duties that magistrates might exercise and the standards of procedures for review.

It would defeat that comprehensive purpose to allow the additional duties clause to override the balance of the statute.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, certainly there is evidence that Congress meant to give District Judges considerable flexibility in the additional duties they could assign.

Joel B. Rudin:

Your... Your Honor, they use the language that we intend to permit district judges to innovate or to experiment, but the question is whether or not the innovation and the experimentation that they had in mind was the assignment of constitutionally important adjudicative functions that elsewhere in the statute it declined to authorize magistrates to perform.

The legislative history makes that even clearer.

The legislative... the House and Senate... the authoritative House and Senate reports indicate, after using the language that we intend to encourage experimentation or innovation, that it had in mind administrative-type functions in aid of the business of the courts, precisely for the purpose of freeing up district judge... judges for their vital and traditional adjudicatory duties, which Congress repeatedly recognized involved most significantly a felony trial.

In addition--

William H. Rehnquist:

When you get down to it, Mr. Rudin, a judge presiding at a felony trial can sit there for a couple of hours and he may make a couple... maybe a ruling or two sustaining an objection to evidence.

It isn't the most demanding part of the judge's role, certainly.