Main content

U.S. Magistrate Judges - Judicial Business 2017

Magistrate judges handle a broad range of duties in district courts, both on referral from district judges and on assignment as presiding judges. In 2017, magistrate judges disposed of 1,099,482 matters, nearly the same number as in 2016 (up less than 1 percent from 1,095,318).

Overall, civil matters handled by magistrate judges on referral from district judges remained stable, declining less than 1 percent to 348,629. Magistrate judges disposed of fewer nondispositive motions (down less than 1 percent to 214,886), held more pretrial conferences (up 1 percent to 58,552), and issued more reports and recommendations on final rulings in civil cases not involving prisoners (up 4 percent to 15,285). They held fewer settlement conferences/mediations than in 2016 (down 4 percent to 21,239).

Civil cases in which magistrate judges were the presiding judges for all proceedings with the consent of the parties, including trials, grew 4 percent to 17,059. Of those cases, jury trials were held in 232 cases, and nonjury trials were held in 104 cases.

Magistrate judges handled 192,622 felony pretrial matters, an increase of less than 1 percent. They disposed of 102,846 nondispositive motions in felony cases (down 1 percent) and issued 3,636 dispositive motions in felony cases (down 8 percent). The decreases in reports and recommendations in 2017 and 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 larger number of proceedings involving criminal reentry programs (which are related to the supervised release of convicted offenders who have completed their terms of imprisonment) resulted from a continued increase in courts’ providing information on these proceedings, which only began to be reported separately in 2013. Magistrate judges conducted 28,764 felony guilty plea proceedings (down 2 percent).

The number of felony preliminary proceedings handled by magistrate judges rose 4 percent to 380,269. Compared to 2016, magistrate judges handled more initial appearances (up 2 percent to 96,637), search warrant applications (up 12 percent to 85,597), arraignments (up 2 percent to 55,198), arrest warrants/summonses (up 7 percent to 51,551), and material witness proceedings (up 6 percent to 6,388). Magistrate judges handled fewer preliminary examinations (down 8 percent to 22,741) and attorney appointments (down 3 percent to 6,214).

Magistrate judges disposed of Class A misdemeanor cases with 5,716 defendants (down 18 percent). This reduction was due to decreases in the numbers of defendants for nearly every offense type. Magistrate judges disposed of petty offense cases with 70,629 defendants (down 12 percent). The drop in petty offense cases stemmed from a decline in defendants charged with immigration crimes (down 23 percent to 37,151).

In cases brought by prisoners, including cases involving habeas corpus petitions and civil rights claims, magistrate judges issued 26,401 reports and recommendations (up 1 percent) and conducted 450 evidentiary hearings (down 5 percent).

Since 2013, the total number of matters disposed of by magistrate judges has declined 6 percent. Magistrate judges have handled fewer criminal pretrial conferences (down 29 percent) and guilty plea proceedings (down 6 percent), but more dispositive motions in felony cases (up 14 percent). Magistrate judges have disposed of 39 percent fewer Class A misdemeanor cases and petty offense cases. Their disposal of felony preliminary proceedings has remained steady (up less than 1 percent), despite a 35 percent increase in search warrant applications. Magistrate judges’ duties in civil cases have decreased (down 7 percent) in part due to reductions in their handling of dispositive motions (down 31 percent) and social security reports and recommendations (down 5 percent), although they have handled more evidentiary hearings (up 23 percent). Compared to 2013, magistrate judges have concluded 10 percent more civil cases with the consent of the parties.

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