Given the burdens of a growing district court caseload and the fact that over 97% of criminal convictions result in guilty pleas, efficiency has necessitated an expanding role for magistrate judges. Within that expanded role lies a greater need for delegation to magistrate judges to assist in the practice of guilty plea acceptance. The Federal Magistrates Act (FMA) permits magistrate judges to take on additional duties so long as they are “not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Despite the language of the FMA, the Seventh Circuit has been the first circuit to deny district courts the option to delegate the acceptance of plea agreements to magistrates. Therefore, the key question on which this Comment focuses is whether the FMA permits magistrate judges to personally accept guilty pleas. This Comment answers this question through an analysis of the history of the FMA, the relevant case law, as well as a comparative discussion between the Seventh Circuit and its sister circuits. Ultimately, this Comment proposes that the FMA should be read to permit federal magistrates the power to accept guilty pleas, consistent with the jurisprudence of the several circuits and the Constitution.
Joshua R. Hall, The FMA and the Constitutional Validity of Magistrate Judges’ Authority to Accept Felony Guilty Pleas, 38 Campbell L. Rev. 131 (2016).