A magistrate is a judge who has limited authority to hear certain issues.
In the federal court system, magistrates are judges appointed by the district judges of the court to assist the district court judges. Federal magistrates can issue warrants, conduct preliminary proceedings such as arraignments, and handle pretrial motions, such as motions to suppress. Federal magistrates may generally not, however, rule on dispositive matters, such as granting motions for summary judgment.
Some state court systems also have judges with the title of magistrate. For example, in Georgia, each county elects a chief magistrate who serves as the court of first resort for issues such as landlord-tenant disputes, county ordinance violations, preliminary hearings of criminal cases, and other minor issues. Additionally, Texas defines all judges as magistrates.
[Last updated in April of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]