United States v. Thoms

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Appellate Procedure
  • Date Filed: 06-29-2012
  • Case #: 11-30120
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Bea for the court; Circuit Judges Gould and Bybee.
  • Full Text Opinion

Where a magistrate judge makes credibility findings that favor the government, but the district court reverses, to the detriment of the government, the government is entitled to a de novo determination unless, as a matter of law, no reasonable factfinder could have found the particular government testimony credible.

Jennifer Anne Thoms and Trace Rae Thoms (“Thomses”), moved to suppress evidence from a warranted search. Following a Franks hearing, the magistrate found no officer misconduct and denied the motion. District court reversed, finding that “a preponderance of the evidence showed that...testimony was not credible.” Government filed a motion to reconsider, claiming that a de novo hearing was required before rejecting the magistrate’s credibility determinations. District court denied the motion because it likely wouldn’t change the outcome. Government appealed. The Ninth Circuit stressed demeanor evidence as the “bedrock of… truth in our judicial system,” and cited the Supreme Court that the Federal Magistrates Act requires a “de novo determination, not a de novo hearing.” Thus, the need to “hear[] some live testimony anew,” is not overcome merely because a district court found testimony in the cold record so lacking in credibility that hearing it again would not change the outcome. The court emphasized that although due process does not protect the government, all litigants share the interest in integrity of proceedings, so “before a district court calls a police officer a liar, there is a strong presumption that the judge should look him in the eye first.” The court limited that presumption in two ways: (1) the rule is not as absolute as defendant’s right to de novo hearings, and, may not be proper where a “magistrate’s determination was so lacking in support that judgment as a matter of law for the party who lost is...appropriate”; and (2) proceedings need not be a full rehearing but the court should select testimony that balances efficiency with integrity and accuracy. Here, the “evidence...in favor of the Thomses was not so overwhelming that...as a matter of law...no reasonable factfinder could have credited [the officer’s] testimony.” VACATED and REMANDED.

Advanced Search