Any individual who has the power of a public civil officer or inferior judicial officer, such as a justice of the peace.
Gonzalez v. United States
In both civil and criminal cases, a trial court may conduct voir dire, or preliminary examination and questioning of potential jurors, to assess competency, bias, personal knowledge of or relationship to a party or witness, etc. A presiding judge has several options when conducting voir dire. The judge may conduct voir dire personally, using the court's own questions to prospective jurors. Alternatively, the judge may seek input from counsel for all parties, or the judge may permit all counsel to conduct their own voir dire with only court oversight. In Gonzalez v. United States, 553 U.S.—, 128 S. Ct. 1765, 170 L. Ed. 2d 616 (2008), the U.S. SUPREMECOURT held 8–1 that express consent by a defendant's attorney to permit a magistrate judge to personally conduct voir dire, without any record that the defendant was personally consulted, was nonetheless binding and valid.
Homero Gonzalez, a 45-year-old Mexican citizen residing legally in the United States, was charged in federal district court , along with a co-defendant, with several crimes associated with the possession of a large amount of marijuana. He appeared before a magistrate judge for a detention hearing and arraignment, but he did not speak English and required a court interpreter to translate the proceedings into Spanish. He also appeared before a district judge for four pretrial conferences. During the last conference, the district judge, through the interpreter, informed Gonzalez that voir dire would start the following week, but the judge did not mention that a magistrate rather than federal judge would preside.
When voir dire began, the magistrate judge addressed Gonzalez personally, through his interpreter, introducing herself and advising him that she would be conducting jury selection. She then called counsel for both parties to the bench and obtained their consent to her presiding over the process. Both unequivocally consented. Following jury selection, a district judge then presided over the trial. Gonzalez was subsequently convicted and sentenced.
Gonzalez appealed his conviction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He obtained new counsel for the appeal. The U.S. federal defender argued on appeal that since Gonzalez had not personally waived his right to have an Article III (of the U.S. Constitution, establishing a federal judiciary system) judge conduct jury selection, the consent by his thencounsel to the magistrate to select a jury was invalid. The Fifth Circuit rejected this argument, not only finding that the consent of trial counsel was valid, but also noting that Gonzalez never raised this argument prior to appeal.
In an older case, the Eleventh Circuit had ruled that a defendant must knowingly and personally consent to the magistrate's involvement in selecting the jury. United States v. Maragh, 174 F.3d 1202 (11th Cir. 1999) The conflict in circuit court rulings prompted acceptance for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled, by 8–1, that express consent of trial counsel suffices as validly binding. The high court characterized voir dire as comparable to a “scheduling matter” and among those for which agreement of counsel generally controls. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court's majority opinion, noted that the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 USC 636(b)(3) provided for district court judges to assign designated functions to magistrate judges. The Court had previously held, in New York v.Hill, 528 U.S. 110, 120 S. Ct. 659, 145 L. Ed. 2d 560 (2000), that counsel, acting without indication or particular consent from a client, could waive a client's statutory right to a speedy trial because such “scheduling matters” were plainly among those for which agreement by counsel generally controls.” The Court further cited its decision in Peretz v. United States, 501 U.S. 923, 111 S. Ct. 2661, 115 L. Ed. 2d 808 (1991), holding that the Federal Magistrates Act authorized magistrate judges to preside over felony jury selection if the parties consented.
Justice Kennedy referred to the acceptance of a magistrate for jury selection as a tactical matter well suited for an attorney's decision. The Court rejected Gonzalez' argument that the decision to have a magistrate judge for voir dire was a fundamental choice raising a question of constitutional significance. Justice Kennedy noted that no serious concerns about the Act's constitutionality were presented, and further, Gonzalez had conceded that magistrates were capable of competent and impartial performance in presiding over jury selections.
Justice Thomas filed a lone dissent. He rejected the premise set forth in Peretz v. United States, indicating that decision should be overruled. He also opined that the failure of Gonzalez to raise a timely objection could be corrected.
Any individual who has the power of a public civil officer or inferior judicial officer, such as ajustice of the peace.
The various state judicial systems provide for judicial officers who are often called magistrates, justices of the peace, or police justices. The authority of these officials is restricted by statute, and jurisdiction is commonly limited to the county in which the official presides. The position may be elected or appointed, depending on the governing state statute. The exact role of the official varies by state; it may include handling hearings regarding violations of motor vehicle codes or breaches of the peace, presiding over criminal preliminary hearings, officiating marriages, and dispensing civil actions involving small sums of money.
U.S. magistrates are judicial officers appointed by the judges of federal district courts pursuant to the United States Magistrates Act (28 U.S.C.A. §§ 631 et seq.), enacted in 1968. This act was designed to reduce the workload of federal courts by replacing the old system of U.S. commissioners with a new system of U.S. magistrates. U.S. magistrates can perform more judicial functions than could U.S. commissioners. Federal magistrates may be assigned some, but not all, of the duties of a federal judge. They may serve as special masters (persons appointed by the court to carry out a particular judicial function on behalf of the court), supervise pretrial or discovery proceedings, and provide preliminary consideration of petitions for postconviction relief. U.S. magistrates generally may not decide motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment, because these motions involve ultimate decision making, a responsibility and duty of the federal courts. However, if all the parties to a case agree, a federal magistrate may decide such motions and may even conduct a civil or misdemeanor criminal trial. Federal magistrates are not permitted to preside over felony trials or over jury selection in felony cases.
mag·is·trate / ˈmajəˌstrāt/ • n. a civil officer or lay judge who administers the law, esp. one who conducts a court that deals with minor offenses and holds preliminary hearings for more serious ones. DERIVATIVES: mag·is·tra·ture / -ˌstrāchər; -strəˌchoŏ(ə)r/ n.