United States v. Garcia, No. 18-2060 (10th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Oscar "O" Garcia was charged by indictment with money laundering, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Following plea negotiations, the government filed an information, charging Garcia with only two counts: conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and money laundering. The parties entered into a plea agreement with a stipulated sentence of 180 months. Garcia consented to appearing before a federal magistrate judge for his change of plea hearing the same day. After Garcia’s change-of-plea hearing before the magistrate judge, but prior to his sentencing before the district judge, Garcia moved to withdraw his plea. The magistrate judge did not make a written recommendation nor did the clerk of court file a notice as to any objections to the magistrate judge’s recommendation. This case called on the Tenth Circuit to resolve whether federal magistrate judges could accept and enter guilty pleas in criminal proceedings where the parties have consented to appearing before the magistrate judge. Longstanding precedent says they could, but in this case, Garcia argued this precedent was abrogated by subsequent changes to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and that only district court judges could accept pleas deemed to be dispositive. He contended these changes to the Rules allowed him to withdraw his previously accepted plea of guilty as a matter of right. The Tenth Circuit found Garcia’s argument persuasive, but felt bound by prior precedent. For that reason, the Court affirmed the district court.