Criminal Justice

Federal judge’s ‘rubberstamp’ orders repeat strings of citations with no specifics, 9th Circuit dissenter says

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A defendant should get a new chance to argue that his confession was coerced after the trial judge failed to discuss specifics in a “boilerplate order” that adopted a magistrate judge’s report, according to a federal appeals judge’s partial dissent.

U.S. Circuit Judge Daniel P. Collins of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco said the federal judge has used mostly identical boilerplate orders since March 2021. The 9th Circuit’s April 10 opinion is here.

“I am unaware of any circuit precedent that has ever upheld this sort of near-uniform use of unexplained orders that summarily adopt magistrate judges’ reports wholesale,” wrote Collins, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

The trial judge was U.S. District Judge James A. Soto of the District of Arizona.

In this case, Collins said, “there are good reasons to suspect that the district judge’s order adopting the magistrate judge’s report here is, for all practical purposes, a 4½-page rubberstamp. Nearly all of the verbiage in the order is nonspecific to this case and consists largely of citations addressing the legal framework for reviewing magistrate judges’ reports. Indeed, nearly two full pages consist of a string citation of cases upholding, as sufficient to satisfy de novo review, district judges’ unexplained orders summarily rejecting objections and adopting such reports. The only aspects that relate specifically to this case are the names of the magistrate judge who filed the report and of the party who objected and the docket numbers of the parties’ filings.”

Collins said the 9th Circuit had admonished Soto in February 2021 for using boilerplate orders in ruling on objections to magistrate reports “but to no avail.” Less than two weeks later, Soto began using a new boilerplate order like the one in the instant case, Collins said.

“Thus, the district judge’s apparent response to our admonition,” Collins said, “was to craft a new standard order explicitly defending and continuing a consistent practice of such summary adoptions.”

The defendant was Demetrius Verardi Ramos. After his motion to suppress his confession was denied, he was convicted for transporting, for profit, noncitizens who were in the United States illegally.

Ramos said he confessed because a Border Patrol agent had shown him a plastic bag with drugs and threatened to bring drug charges if he did not cooperate. The panel majority said Soto had indicated that he reviewed the magistrate judge’s report de novo, and he had no obligation to provide analysis of Ramos’ objections to the report.

“Like Ramos,” the majority said in an opinion by Judge John B. Owens, “the dissent cites no caselaw from any court requiring the district court to provide more analysis or case-specific reasoning when summarily adopting a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation, absent newly raised objections.”

Owens is an appointee of former President Barack Obama.

Hat tip to Law360 and, which had coverage of the opinion.

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