7th Circuit dismisses prisoner’s appeal over wiretap warrant access for lack of jurisdiction

A federal prisoner’s appeal of a magistrate judge’s denial of his request to access a wiretap warrant from his case was dismissed Monday after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found the order was not entered by a district judge and that it ultimately lacked jurisdiction to do anything else with the case.

In Luis H. Jaquez v. United States of America, 21-1491, federal officials obtained three judicial orders in 2016 to begin investigating Luis Jaquez for suspected distribution of illegal drugs.

Two of the orders authorized pen registers and one authorized a wiretap on Jaquez’s cell phone. The wiretap gave access to conversations over an intercepted line while the pen register revealed only the numbers that Jaquez called or that called him.

Federal officials disclosed some of the revealed information to state officials, who in turn used the information to prosecute, convict and sentence Jaquez to 36 years in prison.

Jaquez, who was not federally prosecuted, filed in federal court a motion for copies of the applications, affidavits and orders authorizing the pen register, as well as equivalent documents for the wiretap.

He requested that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana unseal and produce his entire case. However, Magistrate Judge Michael Gotsch ordered for some of the pen register orders to be unsealed and denied his request seeking additional information from the wiretaps.

Jaquez did not ask a district judge to review the magistrate judge’s decision, but did file a notice of appeal after waiting nearly 60 days.

On appeal, Jaquez argued that the 7th Circuit does not have jurisdiction to review the decision because it’s not final for the purpose of 28 U.S.C. §1291, having been entered by a magistrate judge without review by a district judge.

In rejecting the United States’ proposal to treat Jaquez’s brief as if it were a motion to dismiss, the 7th Circuit concluded that Section 636(c)(3) does not authorize Jaquez’s appeal for two reasons.

“First, it applies only when the district court as an institution has decided that a particular variety of case may be resolved by magistrate judges,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote. “As we’ve mentioned, the Northern District of Indiana has not made such a decision for wiretap-related matters. Second, neither Jaquez nor the United States consented under §636(c)(3) to the entry of final decision by a magistrate judge. It follows that Magistrate Judge Gotsch’s decision is not appealable to the Seventh Circuit.”

The appellate court noted that if the United States’ position was correct –that the proceeding is over in the district court and the decision must be “final” and appealable under §1291– then “§636(c) would be effectively obliterated.”

Pointing to the United States’ reliance on United States v. Meux, 597 F.3d 835 (7th Cir. 2010), the 7th Circuit concluded that it could not treat §636 as if it were a clone of §3008 without tossing out the many distinctive features of §636.

“Jaquez’s appeal must be dismissed because the order was not entered by a district judge, and neither the district court nor the parties used the direct-appeal procedure allowed by §636(c),” Easterbrook wrote. “Because we lack appellate jurisdiction, we also lack authority to remand this proceeding to the district court or direct it to proceed in any particular way. All we can do, and all we do do, is dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.”

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