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Virginia Lawmakers Eye Changes For How Magistrates Do Business

A pair Lynchburg delegates recently introduced legislation aimed at providing more oversight and accountability of magistrates. The legislators believe the potential for some magistrates to misuse their judicial authority is too great.

Fariss bill wants copies of complaints preserved

One bill, sponsored by Campbell County Republican Del. Matt Fariss, would require magistrates to forward copies of the written statements by those filing complaints in situations where charges are not filed. Del. Fariss’ bill recently passed a House of Delegates Courts and Justice subcommittee.

Current Virginia law does not require magistrates to file any paperwork or record statements when complaints do not lead to warrants. When charges are filed, the accuser’s statements are filed with the clerk of the court where copies are made available.

Cline bill seeks to put magistrates under watch of local judges

The other bill, sponsored by Rockbridge County Republican Del. Ben Cline, seeks to change the organization responsible for oversight of the magistrate system in Virginia. As it stands, magistrates are under the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court (of Virginia).

Cline’s bill would move magistrate oversight to the chief circuit court judge, chief general district court judge and Committee on District Courts. The delegate believes placing magistrates under the watch of local judges, rather than the Virginia Supreme Court in Richmond, would provide greater accountability.

What is a Virginia magistrate?

Magistrates are not judges but must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. They are appointed by the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia with advice from chief judges of the circuit courts that have jurisdiction within a judicial region. They are directly supervised by Chief Magistrates who serve for as long as they are in good standing with the state Supreme Court.

What powers do Virginia magistrates have?

When someone is arrested for a criminal offense, magistrates conduct bail hearings. Magistrates are often available around the clock and may conduct their hearings either in person or via videoconference.

The main role of magistrates is to give an independent and unbiased review of criminal complaints brought forward by law enforcement and private citizens. Magistrates issue arrest and search warrants, court summonses, subpoenas, and civil warrants.

Under Virginia law, magistrates may not:

  • Be law enforcement officers;
  • Be married to a clerk of any court in Virginia;
  • Be related to a circuit court judge in the same judicial jurisdiction;
  • Be part of any governing body in Virginia;
  • Issues warrants against his or her own family members; or
  • Engage in any activity for financial gain while on duty.

Virginia criminal defense attorneys

If you were arrested in Virginia, you may have had a criminal complaint filed against you before a magistrate. This complaint, like other documents relating to your case, is available to you for scrutiny and review before the courts. The attorneys of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy, PC regularly provide legal representation to defendants accused of criminal misconduct. For a consultation about your case, contact our office.

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Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC is located in Leesburg, VA and serves clients in and around Ashburn, Paeonian Springs, Hamilton, Sterling, Lincoln, Waterford, Leesburg, Purcellville, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Philomont, Round Hill, Arcola, Aldie, Dulles, Bluemont, Herndon, Haymarket, Reston, Great Falls, Clarke County, Fairfax County, Fairfax City County, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Frederick County, Warren County, Winchester County, Arlington County.

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