The Magistrate's Office is an integral part of the judicial system and is made up of judicial officers of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The principal function of the magistrate is to provide an independent, unbiased review of complaints brought to the office by police officers, sheriffs, deputies, and citizens.
Magistrates are trained to perform such duties as issuing search warrants, subpoenas, arrest warrants, summonses, and setting bail. In addition, magistrates may assist the public by providing information on the judicial system processes and procedures.
As described in the Code of Virginia: Title 19.2, Chapter 3: Magistrates, the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia appoints magistrates in consultation with the chief judges of the circuit courts within the magisterial region for which the magistrate is appointed to serve. The number of magistrates in each district is authorized by the Committee on District Courts and must be sufficient for the effective administration of justice.
Any persons who are United States citizens and residents of the judicial district for which they are seeking appointment are eligible to become magistrates unless precluded from appointment because of a statutory conflict of interest such as having a spouse who is a law enforcement officer.
Magistrates will try to assist you by providing general information, but they are generally not attorneys and cannot give legal advice. If you wish to retain your own attorney or obtain legal advice but do not know an attorney, you may obtain the name and telephone number of a local attorney from the Virginia State Bar Referral Service by calling toll-free: 800-552-7977.
The Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia has full supervisory authority over magistrates. Each district has a chief magistrate who exercises direct daily supervision over the magistrates within the district.
The large urban areas generally utilize full-time magistrates who work on a shift basis to maintain an open office 24 hours a day. In contrast, the majority of rural magistrates work on an availability basis and are contacted as needed by citizens or law enforcement officers. In some areas, magistrates work a fixed schedule during the day and are on-call during night hours.
Magistrates have no power to take any action unless authority has been expressly conferred by statute. Magistrates have the following powers to:
- Accept prepayment for traffic and certain minor misdemeanor offenses
- Act as a conservator of the peace
- Administer oaths and take acknowledgements
- Admit to bail or commit to jail
- Issue arrest warrants
- Issue civil or criminal temporary mental detention orders
- Issue civil warrants
- Issue emergency custody orders
- Issue emergency protective orders
- Issue medical emergency temporary detention orders
- Issue out of service orders
- Issue search warrants
- Issue warrants and subpoenas
As a general rule, magistrates may exercise their authority only within the borders of their judicial district.