The Roles of the Magistrate


By Jon Dayton, eHow Contributor | July 20, 2011


The Roles of the Magistrate thumbnail
Magistrate judges play an important role in civil and criminal cases.

In the United States, a federal magistrate judge is a federal trial judge that is appointed to the position by federal judges of a district court. A magistrate judge is appointed to a term of eight years. The current system of magistrate judges was expanded on by Congress in 1968, giving magistrate judges a bigger role and more responsibilities when serving the public.

  1. Minor Criminal Cases

    • Magistrate judges can preside over criminal cases as long as those cases are considered misdemeanor or petty offenses. When presiding over a criminal case, a magistrate judge also has the power to gather necessary information. This would include issuing search warrants, arrest warrants and summonses, setting bail and other conditions of release, holding preliminary hearings, administering oaths and accepting criminal complaints. These judges are even allowed to sentence petty criminals as long as they follow the sentencing guidelines necessary in their jurisdiction.

    Major Crime Cases

    • In criminal cases that are considered serious crimes, the role of the magistrate judge changes. In serious criminal cases, the magistrate plays more of an assisting role to a federal judge that will oversee the main prosecution of the case. Magistrates are still allowed to issue search warrants and arrest warrants and do things of that nature. They can also conduct evidentiary hearings including motions to suppress evidence. Magistrate judges can conduct arraignments in felony cases up to the point where a not guilty plea is entered. They may also assist federal judges with whatever task is asked of them.

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    Civil Cases

    • In most civil cases, magistrate judges manage pretrial matters and make recommendations for the federal judge who oversees the case. With the consent of the two parties involved in a civil case, a magistrate judge can oversee the entire civil trial process. This would include everything from selecting a jury to overseeing a nonjury trial. When given permission by the involved party, a magistrate judge can listen to all evidence, make all necessary determinations and provide a final ruling for the court.

    Assisting Federal Judges

    • Part of the required duties of a magistrate judge is to assist federal judges as required. When requested by a federal judge, magistrate judges conduct pretrial conferences, settlement conferences and any related pretrial proceedings necessary. Federal judges may also require magistrate judges to select grand juries from a list of names, receive the returns of a grand jury, select and oversee trial jury selections and conduct probation hearings and release proceedings.

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