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What Are the Duties of a Magistrate?

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State magistrates are judicial officials who may handle anything from motor vehicle violations to hearings in criminal cases, depending on the state. U.S. magistrates may conduct pretrial proceedings and sometimes civil and misdemeanor criminal trials.

State Magistrates

State magistrates are also called justices of the peace and police justices. They are either elected or appointed officials whose duties can include conducting marriages and hearings involving breaches of the peace and dispensing civil actions involving small amounts of money.

United States Magistrates Act

The role of federal magistrates was established by the United States Magistrates Act of 1968, which was intended to ease the workload of federal courts. The act enabled federal district court judges to appoint U.S. magistrates.

Regular Duties of Federal Magistrates

Federal magistrates may take on some of the duties of a federal judge. They conduct many preliminary proceedings like discovery and consideration of petitions for post-conviction relief, but they do not make ultimate decisions in cases.

Duties of Federal Magistrates Involving Motions

U.S. district judges may require federal magistrates to submit proposed findings of fact and recommendations concerning motions including those for judgment on pleadings, summary judgment, injunctive relief (including temporary restraining orders) and motions to dismiss indictments, dismiss or permit maintenance of a class action or suppress evidence in criminal cases.

Additional Duties of Federal Magistrates

Federal magistrates can also supervise civil calendars, consult with the presiding judge about expediting or continuing a trial, issue subpoenas, writs, and other orders needed for court proceedings, approve surety bonds in civil cases, enter orders in admiralty cases (involving vessels) and preside and administer oaths to naturalize new citizens and oaths of admission to attorneys.


Lexa W. Lee is a New Orleans-based writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has contributed to "Central Nervous System News" and the "Journal of Naturopathic Medicine," as well as several online publications. Lee holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Reed College, a naturopathic medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and served as a postdoctoral researcher in immunology.

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