Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Blaser

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 20, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
LARRY WAYNE BLASER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ERIC F. MELGREN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on the government's Notice of Appeal of Magistrate Judge Ruling to District Court (Doc. 20). Judge Birzer found that 18 U.S.C. § 3142(c)(1)(B) was unconstitutional as applied to Defendant Larry Wayne Blaser and allowed him to be released without the conditions of electronic monitoring and curfew. The government argues that Judge Birzer does not have the authority to make the constitutionality ruling and that her determination is clearly erroneous. In addition, the government requests that the conditions of electronic monitoring and curfew be imposed upon the Defendant. For the reasons described in more detail below, the Court reverses the unconstitutionality finding and sends the case back to Judge Birzer to impose conditions consistent with this Order and § 3142(c)(1)(B).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On April 23, 2019, Defendant Blaser was charged with three counts of transportation of child pornography, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(1), and one count of possession of child pornography, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). Defendant made his initial appearance before Judge Birzer on May 1, 2019.

         The government agreed to Defendant's release pursuant to the conditions required by 18 U.S.C. § 3142(c)(1)(B), [1] which includes electronic monitoring and curfew. During Defendant's initial appearance, Judge Birzer noted that she was aware of some District of Kansas decisions that found mandatory conditions of electronic monitoring and curfew violated a defendant's constitutional rights. Thus, she declined to impose the conditions of electronic monitoring or curfew. Judge Birzer released Defendant but imposed the restriction of no travel outside the District of Kansas or Western District of Oklahoma without permission of the Court or the United States Probation Office.

         The government filed a Motion for Clarification and Reconsideration. In this motion, the government sought clarification of Judge Birzer's authority to find the statute unconstitutional and the specific constitutional provisions that were violated. In addition, the government requested that Judge Birzer reconsider her order and impose the conditions of electronic monitoring and curfew.

         On June 25, 2019, Judge Birzer issued a written order. In this Order, she granted the government's request for clarification but denied its motion for reconsideration. She set forth her reasons for her authority to find the statute unconstitutional and clarified that she found § 3142(c)(1)(B) unconstitutional as applied because it violated Defendant's Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process. She declined to impose the conditions upon Defendant.

         The government now appeals Judge Birzer's findings. The government's appeal involves three issues: (1) whether Judge Birzer has the authority to declare § 3142(c)(1)(B) unconstitutional, (2) whether her ruling that the statute was unconstitutional is clearly erroneous, and (3) a request to impose the conditions of electronic monitoring and curfew as conditions of release. This Court held a hearing on August 6, 2019.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(a), a district court can review a magistrate judge's non-dispositive order if the party files its objection within 14 days of the order. Rule 59(a) also provides that the district judge “must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is contrary to law or clearly erroneous.” Thus, the standard of review is whether any part of the order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

         III. Analysis

         A. Authority

         The government first contends that a magistrate judge does not have the authority to declare a statute unconstitutional. The government raised this issue below. Judge Birzer disagreed.

         “Magistrates are appointed by and serve under the supervision of district court judges.”[2]They are not Article III judicial officers, and “[t]he jurisdiction and powers of magistrates are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 636, and limited by the Constitution, U.S. Const. art. III, § 1.”[3] “Federal magistrate judges are creatures of statute, and so is their jurisdiction.”[4]

         A magistrate judge's authority is generally defined in 28 U.S.C. § 636. Section 636(a)(2) provides that a magistrate judge has the power to “issue orders pursuant to section 3142 of title 18 concerning release or detention of persons pending trial . . . .” In Judge Birzer's order, she found that this provision gave her the jurisdiction and authority to opine that certain provisions of § 3142 were unconstitutional.

         This provision, however, does not provide that a magistrate judge may decide the constitutionality of the statute and strike it down because it is unconstitutional. Instead, it simply states that a magistrate judge may issue “orders pursuant to section 3142 of title concerning release or detention . . . .” There are also no other provisions in § 636 that explicitly provide that a magistrate judge may make constitutional determinations or decisions. As noted above, a magistrate judge's authority is generally constrained to specific issues. There does not appear to be any grant of authority to make constitutional determinations.

         The Court notes that there are multiple cases in which magistrate judges have decided the constitutionality of § 3142.[5] As Judge Birzer noted, although the findings of constitutionality have been questioned on appeal to the district court, the magistrate judges' authority to rule on the issue has not been questioned.[6] The absence of a challenge, however, to the authority to rule on the constitutional issue, does not necessarily mean that a magistrate judge has the authority to rule. It simply means that the question may not have been raised before.

         There are very few cases addressing a magistrate judge's authority to decide constitutional issues and make unconstitutionality findings. However, there are decisions noting a magistrate judge's limited authority and jurisdiction. As an Article I judge, a magistrate judge may not infringe on an Article III judge's constitutionally granted powers, and Article III protections constrain a magistrate judge's authority and jurisdiction. In addition, 28 U.S.C. § 636 (the statute setting forth a magistrate judge's duties) sets forth various limitations on a magistrate judge's authority.[7] Accordingly, the Court concludes that a constitutional determination is beyond the power granted to a magistrate judge by statute. Even though the Court finds that the magistrate judge did not have the authority to make this constitutional ruling, the Court will address the issue because the magistrate judge's ruling could be interpreted as a recommendation to the district judge to find the statute unconstitutional.

         B. Constitutionality

         “In any case that involves a minor victim under . . . § 2252A(a)(1) . . . any release order shall contain, at a minimum, a condition of electronic monitoring” and certain other conditions, such as a specified curfew.[8] In Judge Birzer's written order, she stated that she found the mandatory imposition of electronic monitoring and curfew conditions violated a defendant's Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process because she found that the conditions were to be imposed without an opportunity for the defendant to be heard and without a finding that those conditions were the least restrictive means necessary to ensure the defendant's appearance and community safety. She also stated that the constitutionally protected liberty interest at stake was a defendant's right to freedom of movement among locations or his right to travel. Judge Birzer noted that she limited her holding to finding the statute unconstitutional as applied rather than finding the statute facially unconstitutional.[9]

         The Fifth Amendment provides that “[n]o person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”[10] It protects individuals from two types of government action.[11] Substantive due process “prevents the government from engaging in conduct that shocks the conscience . . . or interferes with rights implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”[12] Procedural due process insures that ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.