Can a defendant's lawyer, without personally consulting the defendant, orally agree to waive the defendant's right to have an Article III judge preside over jury selection?
A federal court convicted Gonzalez of drug charges in a trial in which a magistrate judge presided over jury selection. Though counsel for the defendant consented to the magistrate conducting voir dire (the questioning and evaluation of potential jurors) in lieu of an Article III judge, Gonzalez neither personally consented nor objected. Gonzalez argues that the right to personally choose whether an Article III judge will or will not preside over voir dire is an important constitutional right; the government argues that the rule in Peretz v. United States does not require personal consent, that the consent of counsel was adequate, and that conducting voir dire was within the scope of duties that may be delegated to magistrates. Gonzalez counters that the government misconstrues the language in Peretz.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
This case is ultimately a question of the extent to which a defendant's right to have an Article III judge conduct voir dire is essential to the more broad-reaching right to a jury in criminal cases. A finding for the plaintiff would mean greater protection for the rights of criminal defendants to have a say in determining the important aspects of how their case is conducted. A finding for the defendant, on the other hand, would give control over this key portion of the case to counsel for the defendant. Additionally, the Court's decision will indicate its willingness to allow the delegation of important elements of trial to magistrate judges.Written by: