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.
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.
View the full list of the Magistrate's Power and Responsibilities
Appointment & Operation
While justices of the peace were generally elected officials, magistrates are appointed by chief circuit court judges. Each magistrate serves a 4 year term and may be reappointed. Any persons, who are United states citizens and residents of the judicial district for which they are seeking appointment, are eligible to become magistrates. However, some may be precluded from appointment because of a statutory conflict of interest, such as having a law enforcement officer as a spouse. 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. The city of Roanoke is served by 6 magistrates.
The chief circuit court judge has full supervisory authority over magistrates, but may delegate this authority to the chief general district court judge. 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 about 40 hours a week in 8 to 10 hour shifts. 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.
The 6 magistrates in the city of Roanoke receive approximately 175 complaints every day, of which approximately 150 result in warrants, subpoenas, or orders.