The magistrate system was established in 1974 to replace the justice of the peace system. While magistrates are not judges possessing trial jurisdiction, they are an integral part of the judicial system and are 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 or their deputies, and citizens. The number of magistrates in each district is authorized by the state Committee on District Courts and must be sufficient for the effective administration of justice.
Magistrates are not police officers, nor are they in any way connected with law enforcement. Instead, magistrates are issuing officers serving as a buffer between law enforcement and society. Most magistrates are not lawyers; however, they are specially 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.
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 800-552-7977.
Appointment & OperationThe Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court has supervisory authority over magistrates. Within the Office of the Executive Secretary there is a Director of Magistrate Services. Virginia is divided by Magisterial Regions with Roanoke being in Region 2. Each Region has a Magistrate Regional Supervisor and each district has a chief magistrate exercising direct daily supervision over the magistrates within the district. The chief magistrate in the downtown Roanoke office oversees the magistrates in the City of Roanoke, the County of Roanoke, the Town of Vinton, and the City of Salem.
The Roanoke magistrate's office is open 24 hours a day. Roanoke magistrates generally work 40 hours a week in 8 to 10 hour shifts.