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decided: June 23, 1980.



Burger, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Blackmun, Rehnquist, and Stevens, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 684. Powell, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 686. Stewart, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan and Marshall, JJ., joined, post, p. 687. Marshall, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan, J., joined, post, p. 694.

Author: Burger

[ 447 U.S. Page 669]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari, 444 U.S. 824, to resolve the constitutionality of a provision of the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U. S. C. § 636 (b)(1)(B), which permits a district court to refer to a magistrate a motion to suppress evidence and authorizes the district court to determine and decide such motion based on the record developed before a magistrate, including the magistrate's proposed findings of fact and recommendations.


Respondent Raddatz was indicted on March 31, 1977, in the Northern District of Illinois for unlawfully receiving a firearm in violation of 18 U. S. C. § 922 (h). Prior to trial, respondent moved to suppress certain incriminating statements he had made to police officers and to agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Over his objections, the District Court referred the motion to a Magistrate for an evidentiary hearing pursuant to the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U. S. C. § 636 (b)(1)(B).

The evidence received at the suppression hearing disclosed that on August 8, 1976, two police officers responded to a report of a crime in progress. When they arrived at the scene, they observed respondent standing next to one Jimmy Baston, who was lying on the street, bleeding from the head.

[ 447 U.S. Page 670]

     Respondent was placed under arrest for illegal use of a weapon and was given Miranda warnings. The arresting officers testified that respondent explained at the time of his arrest and after the warning that he had been fighting with Baston over a family dispute and had brought the gun with him in case any of Baston's friends tried to interfere.

In due course, state charges were filed against respondent. One month later, on November 19, 1976, Agents Russell and McCulloch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms interviewed respondent at his home. According to their testimony at the suppression hearing, the agents had been informed by state officials that a state firearms charge was pending against respondent. The agents questioned respondent about the gun found in his possession at the time he was arrested because it had at one time been owned by an out-of-state man who had been slain in an unsolved homicide. At this interview, respondent gave a different version of the events, stating that he had seized the gun from Baston during their August 8 fight and that he did not know where Baston had obtained a gun. The agents asked respondent to help them locate Baston and told him they would inform the United States Attorney of his cooperation if he were subsequently prosecuted.

Respondent's testimony before the Magistrate concerning the November 19 interview varied from that of the federal agents. According to his testimony, he was informed that he would shortly be indicted for violations of federal firearms laws, but that if he agreed to cooperate, "somebody would talk to the prosecutor, and it would be dismissed." He also testified that he was told that if he did not agree to help, he could find himself "going to the Federal penitentiary for a long time."

On January 12, 1977, respondent telephoned the agents and requested a meeting. At this interview, he retracted his November 19 version and stated that he had not taken the gun from Baston, but had obtained it from his half-brother.

[ 447 U.S. Page 671]

     He testified at the suppression hearing that he made the incriminating statements at the January 12 meeting only after first obtaining confirmation from the agents of their November 19 promise that the indictment would be dismissed if he cooperated. The agents testified that no such promise was ever made to respondent, either on November 19 or on January 12. They testified that at the January 12 meeting respondent agreed to act as an informant and that they gave him $10 at that time to assist him in gathering information.

A final meeting occurred on January 14, 1977. Respondent returned to the local offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, accompanied by his wife and children. He was informed by Agent McCulloch that his case had been referred to the United States Attorney for prosecution. The agents again discussed with him the possibility of his becoming an informant, and repeated their promise that any cooperation would be brought to the attention of the United States Attorney. Agent McCulloch gave respondent $50 to pay expenses of acquiring information.


The focus of respondent's legal argument at the suppression hearing was that under Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 7 (1964), and Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532, 542-543 (1897), his confession was not freely and voluntarily given. He contended that he had been induced to utter the incriminating statements through a promise of immunity and sought to demonstrate a course of conduct on the part of the agents supportive of such a promise.

In his report and findings, the Magistrate recommended that the motion to suppress the statements made on August 8, November 19, and January 12 be denied. He made findings that respondent had knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made inculpatory statements on all three occasions. Moreover, the Magistrate specifically stated: "I find the testimony of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent more credible

[ 447 U.S. Page 672]

     . . . ; I find that Federal agents never advised [respondent] that charges against him would be dismissed, if he cooperated." App. to Pet. for Cert. 41a. The evidence before the Magistrate showed that respondent had altered his version of events on several occasions.

Respondent filed objections to the Magistrate's report. In rendering its decision, the District Court stated that it considered the transcript of the hearing before the Magistrate on the motion to suppress, the parties' proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and supporting memoranda, and that it read the recommendation of the Magistrate and heard oral argument of counsel. Finding "that the three statements given by the defendant and sought to be suppressed were made voluntarily," the District Court accepted the recommendation of the Magistrate and denied the motion to suppress.

By agreement of the parties, the court tried respondent on the basis of the transcript of the suppression hearing, and stipulations that the firearm had been manufactured in Florida and that respondent had been convicted of eight felonies. He was found guilty and sentenced to six months' imprisonment to be followed by four and one-half years on probation.

The Court of Appeals reversed. 592 F.2d 976. It first rejected the statutory arguments, holding that the District Court had the power to refer to a magistrate the motion to suppress and did not abuse its discretion under the statute in deciding the issue without hearing live testimony of disputed questions of fact. Turning to the constitutional issues, the court held that the referral provisions of the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U. S. C. § 636 (b)(1)(B), did not violate Art. III of the Constitution because the statute required the District Court to make a de novo determination of any disputed portion of the Magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations. However, the Court of Appeals held that respondent had been deprived of due process by the failure of the District Court personally to hear the controverted testimony. Where

[ 447 U.S. Page 673]

     credibility is crucial to the outcome, "the district court cannot constitutionally exercise its discretion to refuse to hold a hearing on contested issues of fact in a criminal case." 592 F.2d, at 986. The District Court was directed to hold a new hearing.


We first address respondent's contention that under the statute, the District Court was required to rehear the testimony on which the Magistrate based his findings and recommendations in order to make an independent evaluation of credibility. The relevant statutory provisions authorizing a district court to refer matters to a magistrate and establishing the mode of review of the magistrate's actions are in 28 U. S. C. § 636 (b)(1). In § 636 (b)(1)(A), Congress provided that a district court judge could designate a magistrate to "hear and determine" any pretrial matter pending before the court, except certain "dispositive" motions. Review by the district court of the magistrate's determination of these nondispositive motions is on a "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" standard.

Certain "dispositive" motions, including a "motion . . . to suppress evidence in a criminal case," are covered by § 636 (b)(1)(B). As to these "dispositive" motions, the district judge may "designate a magistrate to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and to submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition, by a judge of the court of [the] motion." However, the magistrate has no authority to make a final and binding disposition. Within 10 days after the magistrate files his proposed findings and recommendations, any party may file objections. The statute then provides:

"A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole

[ 447 U.S. Page 674]

     or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate. The judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate with instructions." § 636 (b)(1) (emphasis added).

It should be clear that on these dispositive motions, the statute calls for a de novo determination, not a de novo hearing. We find nothing in the legislative history of the statute to support the contention that the judge is required to rehear the contested testimony in order to carry out the statutory command to make the required "determination."*fn1 Congress enacted the present version of § 636 (b) as part of the 1976 amendments to the Federal Magistrates Act in response to this Court's decision in Wingo v. Wedding, 418 U.S. 461 (1974). Wingo held that as a matter of statutory construction, the 1968 Magistrates Act did not authorize magistrates to hold evidentiary hearings in federal habeas corpus cases. Congress amended the Act "in order to clarify and further define the additional duties which may be assigned to a United States Magistrate in the discretion of a judge of the district court." S. Rep. No. 94-625, p. 1 (1976) (hereinafter S. Rep.); H. R. Rep. No. 94-1609, p. 2 (1976) (hereinafter H. R. Rep.).

The bill as reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee did not include the language requiring the district court to make a de novo determination.*fn2 Rather, it included only the

[ 447 U.S. Page 675]

     language permitting the district court to "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." Yet the Senate Report which accompanied the bill emphasized that the purpose of the bill's language was to vest "ultimate adjudicatory power over dispositive motions" in the district court while granting the "widest discretion" on how to treat the recommendations of the magistrate. S. Rep., at 10.

The House Judiciary Committee added to the Senate bill the present language of the statute, providing that the judge shall make a "de novo determination" of contested portions of the magistrate's report upon objection by any party. According to the House Report, "[the] amendment states expressly what the Senate implied: i. e. that the district judge in making the ultimate determination of the matter, would have to give fresh consideration to those issues to which specific objection has been made by a party." The Report goes on to state, quite explicitly, what was intended by "de novo determination":

"The use of the words 'de novo determination' is not intended to require the judge to actually conduct a new hearing on contested issues. Normally, the judge, on application, will consider the record which has been developed before the magistrate and make his own determination on the basis of that record, without being bound to adopt the findings and conclusions of the magistrate. In some specific instances, however, it may be necessary for the judge to modify or reject the findings of the magistrate, to take additional evidence, recall witnesses, or recommit the matter to the magistrate for further proceedings." H. R. Rep., at 3.

[ 447 U.S. Page 676]

     Further evidence that Congress did not intend to require the district court to rehear the witnesses is provided in the House Committee Report's express adoption of the Ninth Circuit's procedures for district court review of a magistrate's credibility recommendations as announced in Campbell v. United States District Court for the Northern District of California, 501 F.2d 196, cert. denied, 419 U.S. 879 (1974). There, in language quoted in the Committee Report, the court had stated: "'If [the district court] finds there is a problem as to the credibility of a witness or witnesses or for other good reasons, it may, in the exercise of its discretion, call and hear the testimony of a witness or witnesses in an adversary proceeding. It is not required to hear any witness and not required to hold a de novo hearing of the case.'" H. R. Rep., at 3-4 (emphasis added), quoting 501 F.2d, at 206.*fn3

Congressional intent, therefore, is unmistakable. Congress focused on the potential for Art. III constraints in permitting a magistrate to make decisions on dispositive motions. See S. Rep., at 6; H. R. Rep., at 8. The legislative history discloses that Congress purposefully used the word determination rather than hearing, believing that Art. III was satisfied if the ultimate adjudicatory determination was reserved to the district court judge. And, in providing for a "de novo determination" rather than de novo hearing, Congress intended to permit whatever reliance a district judge, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, chose to place on a magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976).

[ 447 U.S. Page 677]


Having rejected respondent's statutory argument, we turn to his constitutional challenge. He contends that the review procedures established by § 636 (b)(1) permitting the district court judge to make a de novo determination of contested credibility assessments without personally hearing the live testimony, violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and Art. III of the United States Constitution.


The guarantees of due process call for a "hearing appropriate to the nature of the case." Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 313 (1950). The issue before us, therefore, is whether the nature of the issues presented and the interests implicated in a motion to suppress evidence require that the district court judge must actually hear the challenged testimony. The core of respondent's challenge to the statute is that "[the] one who decides must hear." Morgan v. United States, 298 U.S. 468, 481 (1936). Here, he contends, only the magistrate "hears," but the district court is permitted to "decide" by reviewing the record compiled before the magistrate and making a final determination.

In Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976), we emphasized that three factors should be considered in determining whether the flexible concepts of due process have been satisfied: (a) the private interests implicated; (b) the risk of an erroneous determination by reason of the process accorded and the probable value of added procedural safeguards; and (c) the public interest and administrative burdens, including costs that the additional procedures would involve. In providing the fullest measure of due process protection, the Court of Appeals stressed that in this particular case the success or failure of the motion to suppress would, as a practical matter, determine the outcome of the prosecution.

Of course, the resolution of a suppression motion can and

[ 447 U.S. Page 678]

     often does determine the outcome of the case; this may be true of various pretrial motions. We have repeatedly pointed out, however, that the interests underlying a voluntariness hearing do not coincide with the criminal law objective of determining guilt or innocence.*fn4 See, e. g., United States v. Janis, 428 U.S. 433, 453-454 (1976); United States v. Peltier, 422 U.S. 531, 535-536, 538-539 (1975); Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 540-544 (1961). In Lego v. Twomey, 404 U.S. 477 (1972), we considered whether the prosecution was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a confession was voluntary. In holding that a preponderance of the evidence was sufficient, we stated that "the purpose that a voluntariness hearing is designed to serve has nothing whatever to do with improving the reliability of jury verdicts." Id., at 486. Accord, Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 384-385 (1964), holding that the "reliability of a confession has nothing to do with its voluntariness." A defendant who has not prevailed at the suppression hearing remains free to present evidence and argue to -- and may persuade -- the jury that the confession was not reliable and therefore should be disregarded.*fn5 See 18 U. S. C. § 3501 (a).*fn6

[ 447 U.S. Page 679]

     This Court on other occasions has noted that the interests at stake in a suppression hearing are of a lesser magnitude than those in the criminal trial itself. At a suppression hearing, the court may rely on hearsay and other evidence, even though that evidence would not be admissible at trial. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 172-174 (1974); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 172-174 (1949); Fed. Rules Evid. 104 (a), 1101 (d)(1). Furthermore, although the Due Process Clause has been held to require the Government to disclose the identity of an informant at trial, provided the identity is shown to be relevant and helpful to the defense, Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 60-61 (1957), it has never been held to require the disclosure of an informant's identity at a suppression hearing. McCray v. Illinois, 386 U.S. 300 (1967). We conclude that the process due at a suppression hearing may be less demanding and elaborate than the protections accorded the defendant at the trial itself.

To be sure, courts must always be sensitive to the problems of making credibility determinations on the cold record. More than 100 years ago, Lord Coleridge stated the view of the Privy Council that a retrial should not be conducted by reading the notes of the witnesses' prior testimony:

"The most careful note must often fail to convey the evidence fully in some of its most important elements. . . . It cannot give the look or manner of the witness: his hesitation, his doubts, his variations of language, his confidence or precipitancy, his calmness or consideration; . . . the dead body of the evidence, without its spirit; which is supplied, when given openly and orally, by the ear and eye of those who receive it." Queen v. Bertrand, 4 Moo. P. C. N. S. 460, 481, 16 Eng. Rep. 391, 399 (1867).

This admonition was made with reference to an appellate court's review of a nisi prius judge in a trial on the merits;

[ 447 U.S. Page 680]

     here we are dealing with a situation more comparable to a special master's findings or actions of an administrative tribunal on findings of a hearing officer.

The Court of Appeals rejected an analogy to administrative agency cases because of its view that the interest inherent in a suppression motion was often the equivalent, as a practical matter, of the trial itself. Our view of the due process demands of a motion to suppress evidence makes those agency cases relevant, although to be sure we do not suggest that the interests inherent in administrative adjudications are always equivalent to those implicated in a constitutional challenge to the admissibility of evidence in a criminal case. Generally, the ultimate factfinder in administrative proceedings is a commission or board, and such trier has not heard the witnesses testify. See, e. g., 5 U. S. C. § 557 (general rule under the Administrative Procedure Act); 29 U. S. C. § 160 (c) (National Labor Relations Board); 33 U. S. C. § 921 (b)(3) (Benefits Review Board); 17 CFR § 207.17 (g)(2) (1979) (Securities and Exchange Commission). While the commission or board -- or an administrator -- may defer to the findings of a hearing officer, that is not compelled. See, e. g., Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474 (1951); NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Tel. Co., 304 U.S. 333, 350-351 (1938); Morgan v. United States, 298 U.S. 468 (1936); Utica Mutual Ins. Co. v. Vincent, 375 F.2d 129, 132 (CA2) (Friendly, J.), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 839 (1967).

We conclude that the due process rights claimed here are adequately protected by § 636 (b)(1). While the district court judge alone acts as the ultimate decisionmaker, the statute grants the judge the broad discretion to accept, reject, or modify the magistrate's proposed findings. That broad discretion includes hearing the witnesses live to resolve conflicting credibility claims. Finally, we conclude that the statutory scheme includes sufficient procedures to alert the

[ 447 U.S. Page 681]

     district court whether to exercise its discretion to conduct a hearing and ...

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