Wingo v. Wedding
418 U.S. 461 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wingo v. Wedding, 418 U.S. 461 (1974)

Wingo v. Wedding

No. 73-846

Argued April 22, 1974

Decided June 26, 1974

418 U.S. 461

Syllabus

Following enactment of the Federal Magistrates Act, the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky amended its Local Rule 16 to provide that, in addition to submitting such other reports and recommendations as may be required concerning petitions for writs of habeas corpus from state prisoners the full-time magistrate shall

"schedule and hear evidentiary matters . . . [to be electronically recorded] deemed by the Magistrate to be necessary and proper in the determination of . . . such petition, and to report thereon with an appropriate recommendation for the disposition thereof to the District Judge [who] . . . [u]pon . . . request . . . shall proceed to hear the recording of the testimony . . . and give it de novo consideration."

Respondent, a state prisoner, whose petition for habeas corpus was assigned to a full-time Magistrate for processing, claimed that the Rule is invalid, and filed a motion with the District Court that the Magistrate be disqualified from holding the habeas corpus hearing and that the hearing be assigned to a district judge. The District Court denied the motion; the Magistrate proceeded with the hearing; and thereafter he transmitted the electronic recording to the District Court along with his written findings and conclusions recommending dismissal. The District Court, following respondent's motion for a de novo hearing, listened to the recording, on the basis of which, together with the Magistrate's findings and conclusions, it dismissed the petition. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, notwithstanding a formal revision of the habeas corpus statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2243, the construction of the predecessor statute given in Holiday v. Johnson,313 U. S. 342, still applied, to the effect that the statute plainly accorded a prisoner seeking habeas corpus relief the right of testifying before a judge.

Held:

1. Title 28 U.S.C. § 2243, like its predecessor, Rev.Stat. § 761, requires that the district judge personally conduct evidentiary hearings in federal habeas corpus cases. Holiday v. Johnson,

Page 418 U. S. 462

supra, United States v. Hayman,342 U. S. 205, 342 U. S. 231 n. 16; Brown v. Allen,344 U. S. 443, 344 U. S. 462-463. Pp. 418 U. S. 468-469.

2. It is clear from the text and legislative history of the Magistrates Act that Congress did not intend to alter the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2243, and therefore Local Rule 16, insofar as it authorizes the full-time magistrate to hold habeas corpus evidentiary hearings, is invalid because it is "inconsistent with the . . . laws of the United States" under § 636(b) of the Act, and because § 636(b) itself precludes a district judge from assigning a magistrate the duty of conducting an evidentiary hearing and limits the magistrate's review to proposing, not holding, such a hearing. Pp. 418 U. S. 469-473.

3. The invalidity of Local Rule 16 is not cured by the procedure relating to electronic recording, which does not enable the district judge to evaluate credibility by personally hearing and observing the witnesses. Pp. 418 U. S. 473-474.

483 F.2d 1131, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 418 U. S. 474.

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