The Safeguards of the Constitution: Fundamental Rights Not Disposable Gifts

The Constitution provides invaluable protections to U.S. citizens, including those accused of crimes. These protections include the rights to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, to be confronted with adverse witnesses, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in one’s favor, and to have the assistance of counsel. When a criminal defendant chooses to plead guilty he or she inevitably forgoes these protections, resulting in a very serious and final proceeding. Circuits are split on whether an Article I magistrate judge, rather than an Article III district judge, has the power to accept a felony guilty plea. This Note argues that it is a violation of the Federal Magistrates Act, Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and Article III of the U.S. Constitution for an Article I magistrate judge to accept a felony guilty plea. This power is reserved for Article III judges. Magistrate judges have both enumerated as well as additional duties. Despite some courts’ attempt to fit the acceptance of felony guilty pleas into their additional duties, it is a dispositive matter where, like felony trials, an Article III judge must be the ultimate decision maker.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.