United States v. Raddatz

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Herman Raddatz
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

DOCKET NO.: 79-8
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 447 US 667 (1980)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1980
GRANTED: Oct 01, 1979

Andrew J. Levander - on behalf of the Petitioner
Joan B. Gottschall - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Herman Raddatz was indicted for unlawfully receiving a firearm. Before trial, he moved to suppress incriminating statements he made to police and FBI officers. The district court referred the motion to a magistrate judge for an evidentiary hearing as authorized by the Federal Magistrates Act (FMA). The Magistrate made findings of fact and recommended dismissal of the motion to suppress. The district court accepted the recommendation and denied Raddatz’s motion to suppress. A jury found Raddatz guilty and sentenced him to six months in prison and four and half years of probation. On appeal, Raddatz argued that the FMA violates Article III of the Constitution, and the district court denied him due process by not personally hearing disputed testimony. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the referral provisions of the FMA do not violate Constitution because the district court makes the final determination. The court reversed, however, because Raddatz was denied due process when the district court failed to hear the disputed testimony where credibility is crucial to the outcome.


Does the statute allowing the district court to decide a suppression motion based on a record and finding of facts developed by a magistrate judge violate the Constitution?

Media for United States v. Raddatz

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1980 (Part 1) in United States v. Raddatz

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1980 (Part 2) in United States v. Raddatz

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Levander, you may continue.

Andrew J. Levander:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The Court of Appeals concluded and the respondent agrees that the due process clause requires either that the district judge defer to the magistrate's proposed findings of fact or to rehear the testimony, but this analysis doesn't make any sense in the facts of this case.

Here the District Court adopted the magistrate's findings.

If the District Court had merely deferred to the magistrate's findings, it would have again denied the motion.

That it made a more thorough review and did not defer could not possibly have deprived the respondent of any kind of procedural protections.

In fact, he received more protection because he got a more thorough review.

We also believe that the Court of Appeals analysis is flawed in failing to consider the three facts that this Court has set forth which should be considered in determining what process is due in a particular circumstance.

That is the personal interest involved, the risk of erroneous deprivation of that interest, and the government's administrative and financial interests in adhering to the procedure set forth.

John Paul Stevens:

Counsel, supposing the magistrate had decided the other way and on review, that is had held that the statement should be suppressed, and on review at the instance of the government, without taking any additional evidence, the court had overruled that determination, would you say it still would be just a -- there would be no purpose to having -- then would you say the standard didn't make any difference?

Andrew J. Levander:

No, the standard would certainly be different because he would be able to review and overturn him, that is the District Court would be able to overturn the magistrate even though the findings of fact were not "clearly erroneous."

He would be able to overturn --

John Paul Stevens:

He could do it without taking any additional evidence?

Andrew J. Levander:

That's right.

Now --

John Paul Stevens:

But you said the defendant really doesn't get hurt by the Court of Appeals position but he might be hurt if it had gone the other way for the magistrate, is what I am saying.

Andrew J. Levander:

But I think in this criminal case the respondent can't raise the deprivation that might occur to others.

Here in this case, he had a full and fair hearing before the magistrate.

The magistrate made proposed findings of fact against him.

Those findings have ample support in the record and the District Court, upon making a thorough review of that record, the magistrate's report and the submissions of the parties concluded that the motion should be denied.

The case would be a more difficult one perhaps where it was purely a swearing contest between a defendant and a --

John Paul Stevens:

But your view of the procedure -- now you are saying he doesn't have standing to make this argument, and I have to think that through -- but your view of the procedure is that even if it is a swearing contest between the officer and the defendant, the district judge may nevertheless in its so-called de novo review reverse the finding of the magistrate without hearing any additional evidence.

Andrew J. Levander:

That is a much more difficult question.

When it is purely a swearing contest -- and the evidence is equally balanced --

John Paul Stevens:

Well, as a matter of statutory construction, you say that that is what Congress intended.

Andrew J. Levander:

That's right.

Warren E. Burger:

Haven't we hinted if we have not held that credibility findings are rarely if ever to be reviewed on a cold record?

Andrew J. Levander:

You have to --

Warren E. Burger:

Or to reverse them, on the hypothetical that Justice Stevens has just posed.

Is it not one thing to affirm credibility findings on a cold record and quite another to reverse them on a cold record?