Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 8124, the Criminal Judicial Administration Act of 2020:
"H.R. 8124, the 'Criminal Judicial Administration Act of 2020,' is bipartisan legislation that makes two modest, but important amendments to current law, promoting the efficient, effective, and fair administration of justice.
"The first part of this bill concerns out-of-custody criminal defendants, particularly those who are released pending trial to live in communities that are located far from the courthouse where their cases are being heard.
"The majority of federal criminal defendants are detained pending trial and the U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for housing and transporting them to court hearings, including trial.
"In addition, under current law, the court may order the U.S. Marshals to provide funds for a criminal defendant who is released pending trial but cannot afford the cost of travel, to cover the defendant’s travel to the location of the courthouse for hearings or trial. However, the defendant must fund their own way back home, and a defendant in this position would not able to receive financial support from the U.S. Marshals for subsistence, such as lodging and meals. For an indigent defendant, these costs are sometimes insurmountable.
"For instance, a defendant from Hawaii, who must attend their two-week trial in the Southern District of New York would have to figure out how to pay for two weeks of lodging in New York City. Or, a defendant released to live at home on the Navajo Reservation, who has a pretrial hearing at the federal courthouse in Phoenix, Arizona, may not be able to afford gas for the six-hour ride back home.
"For years, our federal courts have struggled with how to assist indigent defendants when they find themselves in these difficult situations, but unfortunately the courts’ efforts have come up against the text of the statute. This bill would authorize courts, in the interests of justice, to order the U.S. Marshals to cover roundtrip travel and subsistence for defendants who must attend court hearings, but cannot afford to pay this on their own. The Judicial Conference of the United States has urged us to correct this grave unfairness and I am pleased to see that we are finally doing so with this bill.
"The second part of this bill, concerning federal magistrate judges, is also supported by the Judicial Conference. Magistrate judges have trial jurisdiction over certain misdemeanors, except for Class A misdemeanors, for which the maximum sentence is up to one year in custody. With a defendant’s consent, however, a magistrate judge may exercise trial jurisdiction over a case involving a Class A misdemeanor. Magistrate judges frequently do so, and often hear Class A misdemeanor cases all the way through judgment and sentencing.
"Under current law, a magistrate judge’s jurisdiction ends after judgment is entered in a misdemeanor case and post-judgment jurisdiction reverts to the district court. Indeed, magistrate judges are not authorized to hear post-judgment motions—such as motions to vacate a sentence—even though they are the ones that handled the entire matter at the trial level and are best equipped to hear such post-judgment motions. Among other things, this bill would authorize a magistrate judge to hear post-judgment motions in misdemeanor cases in which he or she exercised trial jurisdiction. This amendment clearly improves judicial economy and makes perfect sense.
"I commend our colleagues, Representative Jeffries and Representative Roby, for bringing these matters to our attention and I urge my colleagues to support this bill."