Magistrates handle minor, generally criminal cases, such as traffic violations, public health nuisances, petty theft and even minor assaults. They are mostly found in England and Wales, although some large municipalities in the United States also have magistrates courts. The magistrates that preside over these courts are usually unpaid volunteers.
Magistrates' courts are always open to the public, except when the magistrates are acting as examining justices. In this role, they examine the known facts about a serious crime to decide whether a defendant should be sent to a higher court for trial. All criminal cases in England and Wales go through magistrate's courts, but only the minor ones mentioned previously are given final judgements by them. The ability of magistrates to imprison or fine defendants is very limited. Magistrates' courts also handle cases involving the care of children younger than 14 as well as the criminal cases of minors between 14 and 17 years old, except in murder cases.
Magistrates in the United States are either elected or appointed to the office. In many places, they do not require legal training, although in large cities they are often lawyers. They have similar final jurisdiction to the magistrates' courts in England and Wales.