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Note - Too Much of a Stretch: Why Acceptance of Felony Guilty Pleas by Federal Magistrates Defies the Intent of Congress and Erodes the Rights of the Accused Regardless of Consent


In 1968, Congress passed the Federal Magistrates Act, creating what would eventually be named the Office of United States Magistrate. This came in response to persistent calls for improvements in the operating efficiency of the federal courts. Through a series of statutory amendments and court decisions, the duties performed by magistrates since the Act’s passage have gradually expanded. In particular, courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have granted additional powers to magistrates through permissive interpretations of the statute’s “additional duties” clause. De-spite statutory language and legislative history placing significant restrictions on the duties that magistrates can perform in felony cases, courts have given approval to magistrates handling certain tasks, e.g. voir dire, in felony matters. This Note addresses the duty of acceptance of felony guilty pleas and examines whether the majority trend in the circuit courts of allowing magistrates to perform such a duty should be permitted under the Federal Magistrates Act. In examining the origins of the magistrate position, the Act’s legislative history, the statutory language, Supreme Court precedent, and a recent decision by the Seventh Circuit, this Note argues that acceptance of felony guilty pleas by magistrates is not authorized under the Federal Magistrates Act and undermines the fundamental protections afforded to criminal defendants.