If you have to go to court, you might hear the word magistrate. In some cases, the court has the option to assign your case to a magistrate. This is a person who does the work of a judge, but they’re not officially a judge. In the U.S. legal system, magistrates help the judicial system save time and money. A magistrate might hear your entire case, or they might only preside over the first few hearings.
Where does a magistrate get their power?
Magistrates court is a division of a federal or state court. Both the federal courts and state and local courts can utilize magistrates to fulfill their duties. Each court can decide how many magistrates they want and need in order to make their court function effectively.
The answer to what is a magistrate judge depends on the powers that the court assigns to them. Usually, their power is limited to hearing only certain types of cases such as criminal law. In other cases, they’ll preside only certain parts of a case. For example, a magistrate judge might conduct an arraignment for a criminal defendant but send the case to the judge for jury selection and trial. Each court carefully determines how they utilize magistrates in magistrates court.
Magistrates are appointed by the judge or a group of judges in the court. That means that the judge typically has the option to replace a magistrate if they’re ever not happy with their work in magistrates court. Magistrates are typically lower on the hierarchy of a court than the judges. The judges function as bosses or supervisors to the magistrates.
On the other hand, a magistrate doesn’t necessarily have to leave the court if a new judge wins an election or an appointment to the bench. The new judge can can continue to use the person as a magistrate judge. That can make a magistrate very experienced and even a helpful mentor to a judge that’s new to the bench. Many people make a career out of working in magistrates court.
In most cases, a magistrate is an attorney. However, in some jurisdictions, they don’t have to be a licensed lawyer. Even if a law license isn’t a requirement to work in a magistrate office, most judges prefer to hire lawyers that have a law degree. The process of hiring a magistrate usually involves posting the position, accepting resumes and conducting interviews. It’s a lot like the hiring process for any other job.
What kinds of cases does a magistrate hear?
The kinds of cases that a magistrate hears depends on the kind of court that they work for. In a federal court, they might hear preliminary motions in civil matters. In these cases, they have a significant amount of authority to recommend dismissal of an entire federal case.
If a magistrate office works for a family court, the magistrate often hears matters that relate to child custody. They might hear an original motion to make a decision about child custody, parenting time and child support. If parents want to make changes to their parenting plan, the magistrate might be the first person to hear the motion and recommend a decision. The purpose of magistrates court is to allow the magistrate to handle more of the routine matters where the outcome of the case is obvious. That allows the judge to handle appeals and more complex matters.
Magistrates are also a common feature in most criminal courts in the United States. Like in family court, a magistrate often handles more of the routine matters, so that the judge can focus on trials and complicated hearings. This allows the court to spread the workload to multiple employees in order administer justice in an efficient way.
For magistrates court for criminal matters, a magistrate might conduct arraignments. They can set bond conditions and set an amount for bond. They can also change bond based on a request from the defendant or the state’s attorney. In some cases, they can sentence a defendant. Usually, they have the power to sentence a defendant for a civil violation or a criminal offense. However, they may not have the power to sentence a defendant to jail. In many cases, if the magistrate believes that jail might be appropriate for a defendant, they move the matter to a judge to make the final decision.
It’s also common to encounter magistrates court for small claims matters. These are civil court matters that involve a small amount of money or property in dispute. For example, if you believe that someone damaged your property or breached a contract for a small amount, you might take the matter to a small claims court. Each state sets its own rules for when a case goes to small claims. In that event, there’s a good chance that it’s a magistrate who decides your fate.
What’s a trial like before a magistrate?
Even though magistrates tend to handle more routine matters, it’s critically important to take a magistrate hearing very seriously. Often times, the magistrate adjudicates a matter that has potentially serious consequences. From the first hearing, it’s important to prepare for each court date and present yourself and your case in the best possible light.
You may or may not have a chance to fully appeal the magistrate’s decision. Sometimes, in municipal court, the judge takes evidence. Then, they make a recommendation to the judge for a decision. If you don’t like the decision, you can usually appeal it to a judge for a second look. However, you might not have the chance to present all of the evidence to the judge. The judge might just look at the record of the hearing in front of the magistrate to see if they agree with the magistrate’s decision.
For example, judges refer a lot of custody decisions in family court to a magistrate. The family judge holds a hearing about the custody decision. They examine witness testimony and hear arguments. Then, they issue a decision.
If one of the parties decides to appeal the decision, the judge that’s higher up may have the option to review the magistrate’s decision on a summary basis. They may be able to just review the record from the lower court instead of calling all of the witnesses again. This makes it critically important to present your case well at the hearing in magistrates court. The judge has to have clear information in order to review the decision of the magistrates court.
You should take every hearing in front of a magistrate just as seriously as you take a hearing in front of a judge. When you have a hearing in front of a magistrate, you have the right to issue subpoenas, so that witnesses have to come to court in order to testify to what they know about the case. In some cases, you can undertake discovery proceedings in order to conduct depositions and gather records for your hearing. In other cases, the court rules don’t allow for discovery before magistrates court. It’s important to check your state’s court rules to see if that’s an option for you.
In some cases, a decision in magistrates court can affect you long into the future. A Minor in Possession (MIP) charge might be one example. Most states have progressive penalties for subsequent MIP offenses. That is, a first offense might not have jail time attached, while a second offense can be punishable by time in jail. A second or third MIP offense might bring a driver’s license suspension too.
That makes it important not to assume that a case isn’t a big deal just because it’s in front of a magistrate. Instead, it’s important to make sure that you’re aware of all of the potential consequences of a guilty plea or a decision to admit to an allegation against you in municipal court. Even what happens in magistrates court can have consequences far into your future.
Formal and informal hearings
A magistrate’s hearing might be formal or informal. If it’s formal, it’s just like a hearing in front of a judge. That means that you need to comply with rules of evidence. You need to go through certain procedures in order to properly admit evidence. The ways that you ask questions have to comply with the formal court rules for your state or the federal government.
If the magistrates court hearing is informal, the rules are relaxed. While witnesses still have to tell the truth, you can often just ask the witness to talk about what they’ve seen or heard. In that case, it’s okay if you word the questions however you want to ask them. Witnesses can also talk about what they heard other people say. In a formal court hearing, this type of testimony isn’t always allowed.
It’s important to know if your hearing is formal or informal, so that you know how to prepare your case. You don’t want to arrive at your day in court to find out that you can’t admit the evidence that you want the magistrate to hear. Instead, it’s important to read the magistrate definition for the hearing in order to make sure that you’re going to have the type of hearing that you’re expecting in magistrates court.
Can you appeal a magistrate’s decision?
In most cases, if you don’t like the decision in magistrates court, you can appeal it. You take a large, final decision to a higher court or judge in order to ask the judge to look at the proceedings and decide if they agree. Whether you can appeal the decision from magistrates court depends on the type of case and the local rules.
There are some types of decisions that you can’t immediately appeal from magistrates court. For example, a magistrate in criminal court might make a preliminary decision about whether to grant you bond. They might also set conditions for your bond. If you’re in front of a judge later on in the case, you can ask the judge to change your bond. However, there usually isn’t a way to immediately appeal the decision from the magistrate.
How do I appeal?
To appeal a magistrate’s decision, you have to file the appropriate notice in your court case. You file this notice either in the same court as the magistrates court, or you file it in the next higher court. In some cases, there’s a form to fill out. You might need to pay a filing fee. If there isn’t a form, you need to prepare a document that correctly identifies the case and the court and states that you’re filing an objection.
Sometimes, just stating in the papers that you file that you’re appealing the magistrates court is enough to preserve the claim. Other times, you have to carefully outline the grounds that you’re using to appeal. You need to be able to show the appeals court how the magistrates court made errors when they admitted evidence. You may need to show them how the evidence admitted in the magistrate hearing doesn’t support the magistrate’s decision. If this is the case, you need to carefully list all of the reasons that the magistrates court judgment is incorrect.
Time limits to appeal a magistrate’s decision
In most cases, you have a limited amount of time to appeal a magistrates court decision. If you don’t file your appeal in time, it becomes the final judgment of the court. The magistrate definition of a time limit is usually strict. If you miss this deadline, you might lose the opportunity to appeal the magistrates court decision forever.
Making the most of a magistrate hearing
The answer to what is a magistrate judge is that they handle some of the important but less serious matters that the court hears. However, magistrates still make important decisions. Even if you appeal the magistrate’s decision, in most cases, the judge knows about the magistrate’s opinion of the case before they start reviewing the proceedings. This makes it extremely important to take the magistrate hearing seriously. What happens in front of the magistrate can either decide the case or set the case in motion for what happens later in front of a judge.