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United States v. Tungovia

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 17, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Kevin Ronnie Tungovia, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable Rosemary Marquez United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants Michaela Denise Ventura and Kevin Ronnie Tungovia's Joint Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 51.) They argue the indictment against them should be dismissed because the Government violated their due process rights by removing the material witness from the United States despite their attempt to appeal his release to the District Court. On February 20, 2018, Magistrate Judge Leslie A. Bowman held oral argument on the Motion to Dismiss. (Docs. 75, 77.) On March 6, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the Court deny the Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 83.) Defendant Ventura filed an Objection to the Report and Recommendation, which was joined in by Defendant Tungovia. (Docs. 99, 101.) The Government filed a Response to the Objection. (Doc. 106.) For the following reasons, the Report and Recommendation will be adopted in part, and the Motion to Dismiss will be denied.

         I. Background

         On October 25, 2017, Defendants were indicted for alien smuggling and conspiracy to commit alien smuggling. (Doc. 15.) During a status conference held on October 20, 2017, the Magistrate Judge ordered that the material witness be temporarily detained pending his video deposition. (Doc. 11.) On November 2, 2017, Defendants moved to accelerate a status conference in order to address the material witness's ability to speak Spanish and to determine whether a Mam interpreter was needed. (Doc. 18.) During the status conference, counsel for the material witness advised that the witness spoke and understood Spanish, and the Magistrate Judge determined that the witness's understanding of Spanish was sufficient to go forward with the video deposition. (Doc. 22.)

         The video deposition took place on December 7, 2017. (Docs. 41, 42.) A status conference was held on the same day, where Defendants objected to the release of the material witness because they wished to investigate inconsistencies between his testimony and the Government's disclosure.[1] (See Doc. 45 at 3-5.) The Magistrate Judge determined that release of the material witness would not hinder or prejudice Defendants' investigation and, consequently, ordered the release of the material witness over Defendants' objection. (Id. at 5-6; Doc. 40.) Defendants orally moved to stay the material witness's release so that they could appeal the release order to the District Court. (Doc. 45 at 8-9.) The Magistrate Judge denied the request for a stay because Defendants cited no authority permitting a third party to request a stay of release of a material witness, and General Order 11-15 provides that “[f]ollowing the deposition(s), the Court shall order the release of the material witness(es) from custody absent a showing that further detention is necessary to prevent a failure to justice.” (Id. at 9-13; Gen. Order 11-15, ¶ 6.)

         On December 11, 2017, Defendants filed a Notice of Appeal of Magistrate Judge's Order Releasing Material Witness and Objection of Magistrate's Denial of Defendants' Motion to Stay Release. (Doc. 43.) Defendants requested oral argument to address whether the Magistrate Judge had authority to release the material witness and deny a stay of release, but failed to request a stay of the Magistrate Judge's release order. (See id.) On December 19, 2017, the Government filed a Response arguing that the appeal was moot because the material witness was deported by the Department of Homeland Security on December 15, 2017. (Doc. 46.) On December 29, 2017, this Court dismissed the appeal as moot. (Doc. 47.)

         On January 9, 2018, Defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 51.) They argued that the Government violated their constitutional rights by failing to allow them the opportunity to appeal the release order because it deported the material witness. Defendants also contended the Magistrate Judge was without authority to enter the release order. Defendants argued that release of a material witness is a “dispositive matter” that must be finally determined by the District Court and that the Magistrate Judge should have therefore issued a report and recommendation instead of a final order. The Government filed its Response on January 23, 2018, arguing that it complied in good faith with the release order because there was no stay in place, i.e., the Magistrate Judge denied a stay, and Defendants failed to request one from the District Court. (Doc. 57.) The Government also argued that the dispute is not ripe because it is not clear the material witness will be unavailable at trial. Finally, the Government argued that the Magistrate Judge was authorized to enter the release order.

         The Magistrate Judge issued the Report and Recommendation on March 6, 2018, recommending that the Motion to Dismiss be denied. (Doc. 83.) First, the Magistrate Judge rejected the notion that a magistrate judge is without authority to order the release of a material witness because, by its own terms, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) permits a magistrate judge, with specified exceptions, to “hear and determine any pretrial matter, ” and release of a material witness is not within the exceptions. Second, the Magistrate Judge disagreed that deporting the material witness pursuant to the release order was outrageous conduct sufficient to establish a constitutional violation. The Magistrate Judge also concluded that Defendants failed to demonstrate actual prejudice.

         II. Standard of Review

         A district judge “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations” of a magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The district judge must “make a de novo determination of those portions” of a magistrate judge's “report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” Id. The advisory committee's notes to Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state that, “[w]hen no timely objection is filed, the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation” of a magistrate judge. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) advisory committee's note to 1983 addition; see also Johnson v. Zema Sys. Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 1999) (“If no objection or only partial objection is made, the district court judge reviews those unobjected portions for clear error.”); Prior v. Ryan, CV 10-225-TUC-RCC, 2012 WL 1344286, at *1 (D. Ariz. Apr. 18, 2012) (reviewing for clear error unobjected-to portions of Report and Recommendation).

         III. Discussion

         A. Magistrate Judge's Authority to Enter Release Order

         Defendants broadly make two arguments. First, they contend that a magistrate judge lacks authority to order the release of a material witness. As explained below, they are incorrect. Second, they contend that the Magistrate Judge should have stayed the release order so they could appeal the order to this Court. The Court agrees. However, Defendants' Motion will be denied because they have not shown the deportation was done in bad faith or that they were prejudiced by the deportation.

         Defendants argue that video deposition testimony is not a “pretrial matter” that falls within a magistrate judge's authority under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).[2] They argue that, because the material witness was removed from the United States, the testimony is trial testimony and thus the deposition and decision to release the witness must be done on a report and recommendation basis pursuant to § 636(b)(3). Section 636(a)(2) provides magistrate judges with the power to issue orders pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142. Title 18 U.S.C. § 3144 permits “a judicial officer” to preside over the detention and release of a material witness in accordance with § 3142. Therefore, § 636(a)(2) confers magistrate judges with authority to determine whether a material witness should be released. Defendants further argue that, even if video depositions and release of material witnesses are “pretrial ...

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