United States magistrate judge
In the United States federal courts
United States federal courts
The United States federal courts make up the judiciary branch of federal government of the United States organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government.-Categories:...

, magistrate
A magistrate is an officer of the state; in modern usage the term usually refers to a judge or prosecutor. This was not always the case; in ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest government officers and possessed both judicial and executive powers. Today, in common law systems, a...

A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

are appointed to assist United States district court
United States district court
The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court, which is a court of law, equity, and admiralty. There is a United States bankruptcy court associated with each United States...

 judges in the performance of their duties. Magistrate judges are authorized by et seq.

While district judges are nominated by the President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 and confirmed
Advice and consent
Advice and consent is an English phrase frequently used in enacting formulae of bills and in other legal or constitutional contexts, describing a situation in which the executive branch of a government enacts something previously approved of by the legislative branch.-General:The expression is...

 by the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 for lifetime tenure, magistrate judges are appointed by a majority vote of the federal district judges of a particular district and serve terms of eight years if full-time, or four years if part-time, and may be reappointed. As of March 2009 there are 517 full-time and 42 part-time authorized magistrate judgeships, as well as one position combining magistrate judge and clerk of court
Court clerk
A court clerk is an officer of the court whose responsibilities include maintaining the records of a court. Another duty is to administer oaths to witnesses, jurors, and grand jurors...


To more clearly distinguish between magistrate judges and district court judges, magistrate judges, bankruptcy judges
United States bankruptcy court
United States bankruptcy courts are courts created under Article I of the United States Constitution. They function as units of the district courts and have subject-matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases. The federal district courts have original and exclusive jurisdiction over all cases arising...

, and certain other judges of limited tenure are sometimes referred to as being "Article I judges
Article I and Article III tribunals
In the United States, the American legal system includes both state courts and United States federal courts. The federal tribunals may be an Article III tribunal or another adjudicative body classified as an Article I or an Article IV tribunal...

," or "Article IV judges
Article I and Article III tribunals
In the United States, the American legal system includes both state courts and United States federal courts. The federal tribunals may be an Article III tribunal or another adjudicative body classified as an Article I or an Article IV tribunal...

 in case of United States territorial court
United States territorial court
The United States territorial courts are tribunals established in territories of the United States by the United States Congress, pursuant to its power under Article Four of the United States Constitution, the Territorial Clause...

," while district court judges, court of appeals judges, and Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 justices are referred to as "Article III judges
Article I and Article III tribunals
In the United States, the American legal system includes both state courts and United States federal courts. The federal tribunals may be an Article III tribunal or another adjudicative body classified as an Article I or an Article IV tribunal...

." This distinction stems from the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

, in which Article III
Article Three of the United States Constitution
Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. The judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court of the United States and lower courts as created by Congress.-Section 1: Federal courts:...

 establishes judges who "shall hold their Offices during good Behavior"—i.e., until death, retirement, or elevation to a higher court except in cases of impeachment
Impeachment in the United States
Impeachment in the United States is an expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office...

—and Article I
Article One of the United States Constitution
Article One of the United States Constitution describes the powers of Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. The Article establishes the powers of and limitations on the Congress, consisting of a House of Representatives composed of Representatives, with each state gaining or...

 allows Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 to establish courts and judgeships of limited jurisdiction
Limited jurisdiction
Limited jurisdiction, or special jurisdiction, is the courts' jurisdiction only on certain types of cases such as bankruptcy, family matters, etc....

 and with fewer privileges, whose decisions are generally appealable to the Article III courts.

Magistrate judges conduct a wide range of judicial proceedings to expedite the disposition of the civil and criminal caseloads of the district courts. Congress set forth the outer limits of a magistrate judge's authority. However, to achieve maximum flexibility, it left the determination of which duties to assign to magistrate judges to the individual districts.

Occasionally Presidents nominate magistrate judges for district judge vacancies. The Federal Magistrate Judges Association is the professional association for magistrate judges.


The authority that a magistrate judge exercises is the jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility...

 of the district court itself, delegated to the magistrate judge by the district judges of the court under governing statutory authority and local rules of court. In criminal proceedings, magistrate judges preside over misdemeanor
A misdemeanor is a "lesser" criminal act in many common law legal systems. Misdemeanors are generally punished much less severely than felonies, but theoretically more so than administrative infractions and regulatory offences...

 and petty offense cases, and as to all criminal cases (felony and misdemeanor) may issue search warrant
Search warrant
A search warrant is a court order issued by a Magistrate, judge or Supreme Court Official that authorizes law enforcement officers to conduct a search of a person or location for evidence of a crime and to confiscate evidence if it is found....

s, arrest warrant
Arrest warrant
An arrest warrant is a warrant issued by and on behalf of the state, which authorizes the arrest and detention of an individual.-Canada:Arrest warrants are issued by a judge or justice of the peace under the Criminal Code of Canada....

s, and summons
Legally, a summons is a legal document issued by a court or by an administrative agency of government for various purposes.-Judicial summons:...

es, accept criminal complaints, conduct initial appearance proceedings and detention hearings
Hearing (law)
In law, a hearing is a proceeding before a court or other decision-making body or officer, such as a government agency.A hearing is generally distinguished from a trial in that it is usually shorter and often less formal...

, set bail
Traditionally, bail is some form of property deposited or pledged to a court to persuade it to release a suspect from jail, on the understanding that the suspect will return for trial or forfeit the bail...

 or other conditions of release or detention, hold preliminary hearing
Preliminary hearing
Within some criminal justice systems, a preliminary hearing is a proceeding, after a criminal complaint has been filed by the prosecutor, to determine whether there is enough evidence to require a trial...

s and examinations, administer oath
An oath is either a statement of fact or a promise calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually God, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow...

s, conduct extradition
Extradition is the official process whereby one nation or state surrenders a suspected or convicted criminal to another nation or state. Between nation states, extradition is regulated by treaties...

 proceedings, and conduct evidentiary hearings on motions to suppress
Motion to suppress
In common law legal systems, a motion to suppress is a formal, written request to a judge for an order that certain evidence be excluded from consideration by the judge or jury at trial...

 evidence in felony cases for issuance of reports and recommendations to the district judge.

The Supreme Court has held that federal magistrate judges may accept guilty plea
In legal terms, a plea is simply an answer to a claim made by someone in a civil or criminal case under common law using the adversary system. Colloquially, a plea has come to mean the assertion by a criminal defendant at arraignment, or otherwise in response to a criminal charge, whether that...

s and has held in Peretz v. United States
Peretz v. United States
Peretz v. United States, was a Supreme Court of the United States case. The Court affirmed that a defendant in a federal criminal trial on a felony charge must affirmatively object to the supervising of jury selection by a magistrate judge, ruling that it is not enough that the defendant merely...

that magistrate judges may supervise the jury selection
Jury selection
Jury selection are many methods used to choose the people who will serve on a trial jury. The jury pool is first selected from among the community using a reasonably random method. The prospective jurors are then questioned in court by the judge and/or attorneys...

 in a felony trial unless one party
Party (law)
A party is a person or group of persons that compose a single entity which can be identified as one for the purposes of the law. Parties include: plaintiff , defendant , petitioner , respondent , cross-complainant A party is a person or group of persons that compose a single entity which can be...


In civil proceedings, magistrate judges typically manage discovery
Discovery (law)
In U.S.law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from the opposing party by means of discovery devices including requests for answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for...

 and other pretrial matters. They are authorized to issue orders
Court order
A court order is an official proclamation by a judge that defines the legal relationships between the parties to a hearing, a trial, an appeal or other court proceedings. Such ruling requires or authorizes the carrying out of certain steps by one or more parties to a case...

 in pretrial matters as long as the order is not dispositive of the case as a whole (such as an order granting summary judgment
Summary judgment
In law, a summary judgment is a determination made by a court without a full trial. Such a judgment may be issued as to the merits of an entire case, or of specific issues in that case....

). They may also be assigned to write reports and recommendations to the district judge as to dispositive matters. With the consent of the parties, they may adjudicate
Adjudication is the legal process by which an arbiter or judge reviews evidence and argumentation including legal reasoning set forth by opposing parties or litigants to come to a decision which determines rights and obligations between the parties involved....

 civil cases in the same manner as a district judge, including presiding over jury or non-jury trials.

Review by an Article III tribunal

Because Article III of the United States Constitution vests the judicial powers in courts to which the judges are appointed for life (and which are therefore called Article III tribunals), decisions of a magistrate judge are subject to review and either approval, modification or reversal by a district judge of that court, except in civil cases where the parties consent in advance to allow the magistrate judge to exercise the jurisdiction of the district judge. The magistrate judges therefore operate under the authority of Congress to appoint "inferior courts", set forth in Article I, making them Article I tribunals.

The Supreme Court most thoroughly delineated the permissible scope of Article I tribunals in Northern Pipeline Construction Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., striking down the statute
A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city, or county. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. The word is often used to distinguish law made by legislative bodies from case law, decided by courts, and regulations...

 that created the original U.S. bankruptcy court. The Court noted in that opinion that the framers of the Constitution had developed a scheme of separation of powers
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

 which clearly required that the judicial branch be kept independent of the other two branches via the mechanism of lifetime appointments. However, the Court also found that Congress has the power under Article I to create adjunct tribunals, so long as the "essential attributes of judicial power" stay in Article III courts. This power derives from two sources. First, when Congress creates rights, it can require those asserting such rights to go through an Article I tribunal. Second, Congress can create non-Article III tribunals to help Article III courts deal with their workload, but only if the Article I tribunals are under the control of the Article III courts. The magistrate judges fall within this category of "adjunct" tribunals. All actions heard in an Article I tribunal are subject to de novo review
Trial de novo
In law, the expression trial de novo means a "new trial" by a different tribunal...

 in the supervising Article III court, which retains the exclusive power to make and enforce final judgments.

The Supreme Court later noted, in Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Schor
Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Schor
Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Schor, 478 U.S. 833 , was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held an administrative agency may, in some cases, exert jurisdiction over state-law counterclaims.-Background:...

, that parties to litigation could voluntarily waive their right to an Article III tribunal, and thereby submit themselves to a binding judgment from an Article I tribunal.


The office of United States magistrate judge was established by the Federal Magistrates Act of 1968. Its foundation is the United States commissioner system, established in 1793. Commissioners were previously used in federal courts to try petty offense cases committed on federal property, to issue search warrants and arrest warrants, to determine bail for federal defendants and to conduct other initial proceedings in federal criminal cases. The Federal Magistrates Act of 1968, as amended, was enacted by the Congress to create a new federal judicial officer who would (1) assume all the former duties of the commissioners and (2) conduct a wide range of judicial proceedings to expedite the disposition of the civil and criminal caseloads of the United States district courts.

In 1979, Congress expanded federal magistrates' authority to include all misdemeanors recognized by the federal criminal code. Magistrates' titles changed again in 1990, when they became "magistrate judges," symbolizing the ever-increasing importance of their work. The system has worked relatively well in the last 30 years, and has tended to shift the federal courts' caseload to the desired balance. Some legal observers have criticized the increasing powers of magistrate judges, who are neither appointed by the President nor confirmed by the Senate. On the other hand, the selection of a magistrate judge is a merit-based process which, by statute, requires public notice
Public notice
Public notice is a notice given to the public regarding certain types of legal proceedings.-By government:Public notices are issued by a government agency or legislative body in certain rulemaking or lawmaking proceeding....

 of a vacancy and the appointment of a merit selection panel which includes both lawyers and at least two non-lawyers. The panel is required to consider the attributes of each candidate, including scholarship, experience, knowledge of the court system, and personal attributes such as intelligence, honesty and morality, maturity, demeanor, temperament, and ability to work with others. Applicants for the post must be personally interviewed and recommended for the position. Magistrate judges are compensated at a slightly lower scale than district judges and do not benefit from the full array of benefits accorded to district judges, so increased magistrate judge involvement in judicial matters has a cost-savings effect for the federal courts.

With the caseload of the federal courts increasing steadily, it is likely that magistrate judges will continue to wield considerable authority in the federal court system.

Magistrates in Ohio

In Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

, for instance, magistrates are appointed by the judges of many municipal courts, domestic relations and juvenile courts, and some courts of appeals and common pleas courts. In addition, to avoid any conflict of interest
Conflict of interest
A conflict of interest occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other....

, most communities with mayor's courts have magistrates preside over sessions, rather than the mayors themselves. Ohio magistrates do virtually everything judges do. Their actions are subject to review and either approval, modification or reversal by judges of their court. The exception is mayor's court
Ohio Mayor's Courts
Ohio Mayor's Courts are state courts in Ohio created by some municipalities. The Mayor's Courts hear traffic cases and other misdemeanors. The presiding officer is a magistrate appointed by the mayor and paid by the city or village....

 magistrates. Upon the timely notice of appeal from a conviction in a Mayor's Court, the proceeding before either the county or municipal court of the county in which the community is located is de novo.

County Magistrates in Georgia

In Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

, on the other hand, each county
County (United States)
In the United States, a county is a geographic subdivision of a state , usually assigned some governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 of the 50 states; Louisiana is divided into parishes and Alaska into boroughs. Parishes and boroughs are called "county-equivalents" by the U.S...

 has a chief magistrate, elected by the voters of the county, who has the authority to hold preliminary hearings in criminal cases, conduct bench trials for certain misdemeanor offenses, including deposit account fraud (bad checks), grant bail (except as to very serious felony charges), and preside over a small claims court
Small claims court
Small-claims courts have limited jurisdiction to hear civil cases between private litigants. Courts authorized to try small claims may also have other judicial functions, and the name by which such a court is known varies by jurisdiction; it may be known as a county or magistrate's court...

 for cases where the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000. In some counties the chief magistrate may be authorized to appoint one or more additional magistrates to assist in carrying out the chief magistrate's duties. In some Georgia counties the Probate Court Judge also presides over magistrate court as Chief Magistrate. The enabling legislation does not require magistrates to be licensed attorneys and most Magistrates in Georgia are not required licensed attorneys, however, local legislation in certain counties requires that either the chief magistrate or all of the magistrates be licensed attorneys so some counties have both attorneys and non-attorneys on the magistrate court bench.

County Magistrates in South Carolina

In South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

, magistrates are appointed to four-year terms by the Governor upon the advice and consent of the Senate. They serve the county in which they are appointed and exercise county wide jurisdiction. They preside over civil and criminal cases, issue restraining orders, search and arrest warrants and conduct bond hearings (except as to a limited number of the most serious offenses such as murder), preliminary hearings, bench and jury trials. They have jurisdiction in civil cases when the amount in controversy does not exceed $7,500 per side (example: Plaintiff sues for $7500 and Defendant counterclaims for $7500), in traffic and criminal cases (offenses carry a penalty range from 1 day up to 3 years, although most are 30 days) and Landlord-Tenant cases with no limit on the dollar amount involved. Magistrates are referred to by the litigants and lawyers that appear before them as "Judge" or "Your Honor." The South Carolina Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a trial by jury on all criminal charges. Juries in Magistrate's Courts are composed of six citizens.

County Magistrates in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, magisterial district judges are elected for six-year terms by the electors in the district that the magistrate judge serves. They serve alone in districts apportioned by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and exercise statewide jurisdiction, with limitations. They conduct criminal arraignments and preliminary hearings, issue arrest warrants and search warrants in some cases, hear civil disputes involving $8,000.00 or less, Landlord-Tenant disputes, except not matters involving title to real estate, issue temporary Protection from Abuse Act orders, decide traffic, game law, and fish and boat code cases, conduct marriages, administer oaths and affirmations, etc. They are state employees and supervise staffs which are county employees.

Unlike judges in the county-level Courts of Common Pleas
Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas
The Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas are the trial courts of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania .The Courts of Common Pleas are the trial courts of general jurisdiction in the state....

, or in the appellate courts, magistrates in Pennsylvania are not required to have law degrees.

County Magistrates in Kentucky

In many counties in Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

, Magistrates are elected every 4 years to the County's Fiscal Court
Fiscal Court
The Fiscal Court, under the Kentucky Constitution of 1891, is the name given to the county legislature and governing body of each of the counties in Kentucky. Despite the name, it no longer has any responsibility for judicial proceedings....

. A Fiscal Court is led by an elected County Judge-Executive and is equivalent to a County Commission
County commission
A county commission is a group of elected officials charged with administering the county government in local government in some states of the United States. County commissions are usually made up of three or more individuals...

. A Kentucky County is separated into districts, and the citizens of each district elects a Magistrate to serve on this court. Under Kentucky's first constitution, Fiscal Courts were in charge of all judicial and legislative powers of a county. In the present constitution the Fiscal Court is only designated to carry out legislative powers, while the Judge-Executive carries out the executive powers of the county. In some counties in Kentucky, the magistrates no longer sit on the Fiscal Court, having been replaced by three at-large County Commissioners, along with the County Judge/Executive. In these counties, magistrates are still elected, however their duties are limited to the performance of marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...


Texas Magistrates

In Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, all judges are magistrates, along with mayors of incorporated cities.
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