What Does a Magistrate Judge Do?

In North Carolina, there are three kinds of judges: magistrates, superior court judges, and district court judges. Unlike superior and district court judges, magistrates are not elected by North Carolina voters. Rather, magistrate judges are independent judicial officers for the district court who are nominated for office by the clerk of superior court, appointed by the senior resident superior court judge and supervised by the chief district court judge. Qualifications for the position include a residency requirement for the county of appointment and satisfaction of the education or related experience requirement. While many magistrates are attorneys, this is not a requirement for the position. 

Magistrates may serve an initial term of two years and are eligible for a subsequent four-year term. Though not technically under the jurisdiction of the Judicial Standards Commission like District and Superior Court judges, magistrates take the same oath as these judges and are subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct. Magistrates have the same mandatory retirement age as other state judges and the grounds for removing a magistrate is the same as with District and Superior Court judges. 

            Like other judges, magistrates provide an independent and impartial review of civil and criminal complaints brought before them by local law enforcement or private citizens. There is considerable variation in magistrate responsibilities from county to county. The duty most associated with the magistrate judge is issuing search and arrest warrants. However, magistrate judges perform a wide range of judicial duties in both civil and criminal matters including hearing small claims cases, determining involuntary commitments, entering orders for summary ejectment or eviction, and conducting initial appearances, and setting release conditions in criminal cases. Magistrates may also perform marriages and are the only civil official in North Carolina authorized to do so. 

            Other Magistrate Duties include:

  • Accepting guilty pleas and entering judgment for Class 3 misdemeanors and waiver list offenses
  • Setting bail in non-capital cases
  • Issuing temporary ex parte domestic violence protection orders
  • Appointing counsel for cases involving an indigent party
  • Issuing subpoenas and administering oaths
  • Accepting petitions in cases involving juveniles
  • Issuing orders for the seizure of animals in cruelty cases
  • Hearing civil actions seeking eviction, up to $10,000 in money damages, recovery of personal property, and motor vehicle liens.
  • Issuing criminal arrest and search warrants and administrative search and inspection warrants for civil matters.

To learn more about North Carolina magistrates, visit the NC Courts website.