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U.S. Magistrate Judges — Judicial Business 2018

Magistrate judges handle a broad range of duties in district courts, both on referral from district judges and on assignment as presiding judges. In 2018, magistrate judges disposed of 1,219,163 matters, an increase of 11 percent since 2017.

Overall, civil matters handled by magistrate judges on referral from district judges remained stable, declining less than 1 percent to 348,421. Magistrate judges disposed of more non-dispositive motions (up 2 percent to 219,360), held fewer pretrial conferences (down 8 percent to 53,651), and issued more reports and recommendations on final rulings in civil cases not involving prisoners (up 6 percent to 16,193). They held fewer evidentiary hearings than in 2017 (down 12 percent to 1,109).

Civil cases in which magistrate judges were the presiding judges for all proceedings on consent of the parties, including trials, held steady, going up less than 1 percent to 17,112. Of those cases, jury trials were held in 222 cases, and nonjury trials were held in 99 cases.

Magistrate judges handled 213,964 felony pretrial matters, an increase of 11 percent. They disposed of 117,540 non-dispositive motions in felony cases (up 14 percent) and issued 3,889 dispositive motions in felony cases (up 7 percent). Magistrate judges conducted 32,216 felony guilty plea proceedings (up 12 percent).

The number of felony preliminary proceedings handled by magistrate judges rose 12 percent to 426,865. Compared with 2017, magistrate judges handled more initial appearances (up 11 percent to 107,525), search warrant applications (up 16 percent to 99,414), arraignments (up 10 percent to 60,837), arrest warrants/summonses (up 12 percent to 57,676), material witness proceedings (up 26 percent to 8,022), and detention hearings (up 11 percent to 52,794).

Magistrate judges disposed of Class A misdemeanor cases with 5,321 defendants (down 7 percent). This reduction was primarily due to decreases in defendants accused of food and drug offenses. Magistrate judges disposed of petty offense cases with 110,765 defendants (up 57 percent). The rise in petty offense cases stemmed from an increase in defendants charged with immigration crimes (up 116 percent to 80,117).

In cases brought by prisoners, including cases involving habeas corpus petitions and civil rights claims, magistrate judges issued 26,582 reports and recommendations (up less than 1 percent) and conducted 395 evidentiary hearings (down 12 percent).

Since 2014, the total number of matters disposed of by magistrate judges has increased 8 percent. Magistrate judges have handled more criminal non-dispositive motions (up 20 percent). Data indicating that magistrate judges have 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 began to be reported separately in 2013. Magistrate judges have disposed of 8 percent more Class A misdemeanor cases and petty offense cases. Their disposal of felony preliminary proceedings has risen 23 percent, partly because of a 59 percent increase in search warrant applications. Magistrate judges’ duties in civil cases have decreased 7 percent, due in part to reductions in their handling of dispositive motions (down 16 percent) and motion hearings/arguments (down 26 percent), although they have handled more settlement conferences/mediations (up 3 percent). Compared with 2014, magistrate judges have concluded 9 percent more civil cases by consent.

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