Peretz v. United States

RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:Milwaukee County Jail

DOCKET NO.: 90-615
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 501 US 923 (1991)
ARGUED: Apr 23, 1991
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1991

Joel B. Rudin – on behalf of the Petitioner
William C. Bryson – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Peretz v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 23, 1991 in Peretz v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 27, 1991 in Peretz v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 90-615, Peretz against the United States will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

The petitioner was charged with a narcotics offense.

At a pretrial conference attended by both petitioner and his counsel, the district judge asked if either party had any objection to picking the jury before a magistrate.

Petitioner’s counsel responded that he would love the opportunity.

Immediately before the voir dire commenced, the magistrate asked again if the parties agreed that she should proceed with jury selection.

Petitioner’s counsel once again gave consent.

The magistrate then supervised the jury selection.

Petitioner did not ask the district judge to review any decision made by the magistrate, and the district judge officially impaneled the jury.

Petitioner was convicted following a jury trial.

The Federal Magistrates Act authorizes District Courts to assign the magistrate certain described functions as well as such additional duties that are not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.

In Gomez against United States, we held that these additional duties do not include selection of a jury in a felony trial without the defendant’s consent.

The question in this case is whether the defendant’s consent warrants a different result.

The Second Circuit held that it does ruling that the defendant’s consent waived any subsequent challenge to the magistrate’s authority to conduct the voir dire.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm that judgment.

The constitutional concerns that led us in Gomez to conclude that the Act does not authorize a magistrate supervision of jury selection over the defendant’s objection are not present in this case.

Absent contemporaneous objection by one of the parties, there is no constitutional infirmity in the designation to a magistrate of responsibility for presiding over felony voir dire.

Because the defendant consented to the magistrate’s role, we also need not be concerned that we are depriving a defendant of an important right or privilege.

In addition, the specified duties that a district judge may delegate to a magistrate with the party’s consent such as supervision of entire civil and misdemeanor trials are comparable in responsibility and importance to presiding over voir dire at a felony trial.

Permitting a magistrate to conduct that felony voir dire, if the party’s consent will advance the policies behind the Magistrates Act by relieving the workload of district judges while ensuring that criminal defendants have the ability to protect their interest in having a district judge preside at voir dire.

We, therefore, hold that the additional duties which may be delegated to a magistrate include supervision of voir dire in a felony trial provided that the parties consent.

Justice Marshall has filed a dissent in which Justices White and Blackmun have joined; Justice Scalia has filed a separated dissenting opinion.