UNITED STATES V. RADDATZ, 447 U. S. 667 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980)

United States v. Raddatz

No. 79-8

Argued February 25, 1980

Decided June 23, 1980

447 U.S. 667


Prior to his trial on federal criminal charges, respondent moved to suppress certain incriminating statements he had made to police officers and federal agents. Over objections, the District Court referred the motion to a Magistrate for an evidentiary hearing pursuant to a provision of the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), which authorizes a district court to refer such a motion to a magistrate and thereafter to determine and decide such motion based on the record developed before the magistrate, including the magistrate's proposed findings of fact and recommendations. Section 636(b)(1) also provides that the judge shall make a "de novo determination" of those portions of the magistrate's report, findings, or recommendations to which objection is made, and that the judge may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate's findings or recommendations; alternatively the judge may receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate with instructions. Based on his view of the credibility of the testimony at the hearing on respondent's motion, the Magistrate found that respondent had knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made the inculpatory statements and recommended that the motion to suppress be denied. Over respondent's objections to the Magistrate's report, the District Court accepted the recommendation and denied the motion to suppress, stating that it had considered the transcript of the Magistrate's hearing, the parties' proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and supporting memoranda, the Magistrate's recommendation, and oral argument of counsel. Respondent was then tried and convicted, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding, inter alia, that respondent had been deprived of due process by the District Court's failure personally to hear the controverted testimony on the motion to suppress.


1. Under the statute -- which calls for "de novo determination," not a de novo hearing -- the District Court was not required to rehear the testimony on which the Magistrate based his findings and recommendations in order to make an independent evaluation of credibility. The legislative history discloses that Congress purposefully used the word

Page 447 U. S. 668

determination rather than hearing, believing that Art. III was satisfied if the ultimate adjudicatory determination was reserved to the Art. III officer, and that Congress intended to permit whatever reliance the judge, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, chose to place on the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations. Pp. 447 U. S. 673-676.

2. The statute strikes the proper balance between the demands of due process under the Fifth Amendment and the constraints of Art. III. Pp. 447 U. S. 677-684.

(a) The nature of the issues presented and the interests implicated in a motion to suppress evidence do not require, as a matter of due process, that the district judge must actually hear the challenged testimony. While the resolution of a suppression motion may determine the outcome of the case, the interests underlying a voluntariness hearing do not coincide with the criminal law objective of determining guilt or innocence, but are of a lesser magnitude than those in the criminal trial itself. The due process rights claimed here are adequately protected by the statute, under which the district judge alone acts as the ultimate decisionmaker, with the broad discretion to accept, reject, or modify the magistrate's proposed findings, or to hear the witnesses live to resolve conflicting credibility claims. The statutory scheme also includes sufficient procedures to alert the district court whether to exercise its discretion to conduct a hearing and view the witnesses itself. Pp. 447 U. S. 677-681.

(b) Although the statute permits the district court to give the magistrate's proposed findings of fact and recommendations such weight as their merit commands and the sound discretion of the judge warrants, that delegation does not violate Art. III so long as the ultimate decision is made by the district court. Congress has not sought to delegate the task of rendering a final decision on a suppression motion to a non-Art. III officer, but instead has made clear that the district court has plenary discretion whether to authorize a magistrate to hold an evidentiary hearing and that the magistrate acts subsidiary to, and only in aid of, the court, the entire process thereafter taking place under the court's total control and jurisdiction. Pp. 447 U. S. 681-683.

592 F.2d 976, reversed.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 447 U. S. 684. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 447 U. S. 686. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 447 U. S. 687. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 447 U. S. 694.

Page 447 U. S. 669

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