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U.S. Magistrate Judges - Judicial Business 2016

Magistrate judges handle a broad range of duties in district courts, both on referral from district judges and on assignment as presiding judges. In 2016, magistrate judges disposed of 1,087,249 matters, nearly the same number as in 2015 (up less than 1 percent from 1,086,745).

Overall, civil matters handled by magistrate judges on referral from district judges remained stable, declining less than 1 percent to 348,568. Magistrate judges disposed of fewer nondispositive motions (down 1 percent to 214,970), held more pretrial conferences (up 4 percent to 57,660), and issued more reports and recommendations on final rulings in civil cases not involving prisoners (up 3 percent to 14,676). They held a similar number of settlement conferences/mediations as in 2015 (up by 20 to 22,157).

Civil cases in which magistrate judges were the presiding judges for all proceedings on consent of the parties, including trials, decreased 1 percent to 16,656. Of those cases, jury trials were held in 265 cases, and nonjury trials were held in 106 cases.

Magistrate judges handled 191,654 felony pretrial matters, an increase of 3 percent. They disposed of 103,385 nondispositive motions in felony cases (up 1 percent) and issued 3,949 dispositive motions in felony cases (down 25 percent). The decrease in reports and recommendations in 2016 came after a one-time rise in 2015 in motions to reduce sentences that occurred after Amendment 782 to the United States Sentencing Guidelines adjusted by two levels the Drug Quantity Table used for sentencing offenders in certain drug cases pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). Data indicating that magistrate judges handled a much larger number of proceedings in criminal reentry programs resulted from a continued increase in courts’ providing information on these proceedings, which only began to be reported separately in 2013. Magistrate judges conducted 29,438 felony guilty plea proceedings (up 5 percent).

The number of felony preliminary proceedings handled by magistrate judges rose 3 percent to 363,017. Compared to 2015, magistrate judges handled more initial appearances (up 2 percent to 94,609), search warrant applications (up 9 percent to 72,960), arrest warrants/summonses (up 3 percent to 48,160), detention hearings (up 4 percent to 47,408), preliminary exams (up 8 percent to 24,683), and material witness proceedings (up 23 percent to 6,052). Magistrate judges handled fewer arraignments (down 1 percent to 54,389) and attorney appointments (down 17 percent to 6,378).

Magistrate judges disposed of Class A misdemeanor cases with 6,817 defendants (down 21 percent). This reduction was due to decreases in defendants for nearly every offense type. Magistrate judges disposed of petty offense cases with 79,969 defendants (down 7 percent). The drop in petty offense cases stemmed from a decline in defendants charged with other traffic offenses (down 14 percent to 18,340) and immigration crimes (down 4 percent to 47,962).

In cases brought by prisoners, including cases involving habeas corpus petitions and civil rights claims, magistrate judges issued 26,114 reports and recommendations (up 2 percent) and conducted 463 evidentiary hearings (up 1 percent).

Since 2012, the total number of matters disposed of by magistrate judges has declined 6 percent. Magistrate judges have handled fewer criminal pretrial conferences (down 34 percent) and guilty plea proceedings (down 4 percent), but more dispositive motions in felony cases (up 23 percent). Magistrate judges have disposed of 32 percent fewer Class A misdemeanor cases and petty offense cases, as well as 4 percent fewer felony preliminary proceedings, despite a 24 percent increase in search warrant applications. Magistrate judges’ duties in civil cases have fallen slightly (down 1 percent) in part due to decreases in their handling of motion hearings/arguments (down 20 percent) and of dispositive motion reports and recommendations (down 6 percent), although they handled more evidentiary hearings (up 13 percent). Compared to 2012, magistrate judges have concluded 11 percent more civil cases by consent.

For data on the work of magistrate judges, see Table S-17 and the M series of tables.