Most people have probably never even heard of the term magistrate judge — but they perform an important function in legal proceedings. Federal ones, that is. The United States functions by hierarchy. We have social hierarchies. We have corporate hierarchies. We have military hierarchies. We have legislative hierarchies. And we have judicial hierarchies.
The latter looks something like this: at the top is the U.S. Supreme Court. Underneath the Supreme Court are all the federal and national laws that we must obey to stay out of federal prison. The next court is the U.S. Court of Appeal, which has the authority to overturn lower court decisions much the same way that the Supreme Court can overturn its decisions.
Even further down are the U.S. District Courts. From that point and above, everything is governed by federal bodies. Lower are the state laws, state courts, county and local laws, and local courts that we must navigate to stay out of state run jails. Generally, if you break a local law, you would expect to incur a lesser wrath (and smaller penalty) than you would if you broke a federal law.
When you seek out attorneys for help after being charged with a crime, who you contact is dependent on where the crime was committed — and even who is charging you with the crime. Lots of small town attorneys will only handle local and state charges. When you’re charged with a federal crime, you need experienced trial attorneys. Hale & Monico is one example of a law firm that handles federal cases that are likely to end up in front of a jury.
Now climb back up the ladder until you arrive back at the district courts. According to the Utah branch of US Courts, “A U.S. magistrate judge is a judicial officer of the district court and is appointed by majority vote of the active district judges of the court. A U.S. magistrate judge is appointed based upon the recommendations of a citizen’s merit screening committee.”
Different judges are appointed depending on where they fall in the aforementioned hierarchy. For example, federal judges are nominated by the president — but it falls to Congress to certify the nomination. You’ll remember that Obama “left” hundreds of federal seats open. But in actuality, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used his power to block every one of them. When former president Trump entered office, he allowed Trump’s nominations to proceed. So political maneuvering plays a big role in how and what gets done.
US Courts added, “A U.S. magistrate judge exercises jurisdiction over matters assigned by statute as well as those delegated by the district judges. A full-time magistrate judge serves a term of eight years. Duties assigned to magistrate judges by district court judges may vary considerably from court to court.”
This is different from district judges, who are also nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and serve for life.