The duties of a magistrate include handling minor criminal cases, such as minor assaults, public health nuisances, petty theft and traffic violations, the United States District Court of Utah explains. Magistrates are more common in larger municipalities within the United States, and in some cases magistrates are unpaid volunteers.
Many times a magistrate is also referred to as a justice of the peace, or judicial officer, Cornell University Law School explains. Magistrates' courts are usually open to the public, with the exception of when a magistrate is acting as an examining justice. In this role, the magistrate examines the known facts about a serious criminal matter and decides whether to send the defendant to a higher court.
In some states, such as Georgia, a magistrates' court is also referred to as a small claims court, the Georgia Department of Law says. In these courts, magistrates deal with a number of issues including landlord-tenant cases for nonpayment of rent of a landlord refusing the return of a security deposit; a merchant refusing to repair faulty merchandise or allowing the customer a refund; or a driver failing to pay for repairs for slightly damaging another person's vehicle.
Magistrates may also handle social security decisions appeals and review petitions made by prisoners regarding their convictions or confinement conditions, the United States District Court of Utah notes.