Peretz v. United States - 501 U.S. 923 (1991)
U.S. Supreme Court
Peretz v. United States, 501 U.S. 923 (1991)
Peretz v. United States
Argued April 23, 1991
Decided June 27, 1991
501 U.S. 923
In Gomez v. United States, 490 U. S. 858, this Court held that the selection of a jury in a felony trial without a defendant's consent is not one of the "additional duties" that magistrates may be assigned under the Federal Magistrates Act. That decision rested on the lack of both an express statutory provision for de novo review and an explicit congressional intent to permit magistrates to conduct voir dire absent the parties' consent. And it was compelled by concerns that a defendant might have a constitutional right to demand that an Article III judge preside at every critical stage of a felony trial and that the procedure deprived an individual of an important privilege, if not a right. In this case, petitioner Peretz consented to the assignment of a Magistrate to conduct the voir dire and supervise the jury selection for his felony trial, never asked the District Court to review the Magistrate's rulings, and raised no objection regarding jury selection at trial. However, on appeal from his conviction, he contended that it was error to assign the jury selection to the Magistrate. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction on the ground that Gomez requires reversal only in cases in which the magistrate has acted without the defendant's consent.
1. The Act's "additional duties" clause permits a magistrate to supervise jury selection in a felony trial provided that the parties consent. The fact that there is only ambiguous evidence of Congress' intent to include jury selection among magistrates' additional duties is far less important here than it was in Gomez, for Peretz' consent eliminates the concerns about a constitutional issue and the deprivation of an important right. Absent these concerns, the Act's structure and purpose evince a congressional belief that magistrates are well qualified to handle matters of similar importance to jury selection. This reading of the additional duties clause strikes the balance Congress intended between a criminal defendant's interests and the policies undergirding the Act. It allows courts, with the litigants' consent, to continue innovative experiments in the use of magistrates to improve the efficient administration of the courts' dockets, thus relieving the courts of certain subordinate duties that often distract them from more important matters. At the same time, the consent requirement protects a criminal defendant's interest in
requesting the presence of a trial judge at all critical stages of his felony trial. Pp. 501 U. S. 932-936.
2. There is no constitutional infirmity in the delegation of felony trial jury selection to a magistrate when the litigants consent. A defendant has no constitutional right to have an Article III judge preside at jury selection if he has raised no objection to the judge's absence. Cf. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Schor, 478 U. S. 833, 478 U. S. 848. Cf. also, e.g., United States v. Gagnon, 470 U. S. 522, 470 U. S. 528. In addition, none of Article III's structural protections are implicated by this procedure. The entire process takes place under the total control and jurisdiction of the district court, which decides, subject to veto by the parties, whether to invoke a magistrate's assistance and whether to actually empanel the jury selected. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U. S. 667. That the Act does not provide for a de novo review of magistrates' decisions during jury selection does not alter this result, for, if a defendant requests review, nothing in the statute precludes a court from providing the review required by the Constitution. See id. at 447 U. S. 681, n. 7. Pp. 501 U. S. 936-939.
904 F.2d 34, affirmed.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 501 U. S. 940. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 501 U. S. 952.