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U.S. Magistrate Judges — Judicial Business 2021

Magistrate judges handle a broad range of duties in district courts, both on referral from district judges and on assignment as presiding judges. In 2021, magistrate judges disposed of 1,228,277 matters, an increase of 3 percent since 2020.

Overall, civil matters handled by magistrate judges on referral from district judges increased 1 percent to 356,568. Magistrate judges disposed of more non-dispositive motions (up 3 percent to 235,994) and issued fewer reports and recommendations on dispositive motions in non-prisoner civil cases (down 6 percent to 14,556). They conducted more settlement conferences (up 7 percent to 20,282) and evidentiary hearings (up 12 percent to 953). In Social Security cases, magistrate judges issued 2,912 reports and recommendations (down 16 percent). 

Civil cases in which magistrate judges were the presiding judges for all proceedings on consent of the parties, including trials, rose 3 percent to 16,974. Of those cases, jury trials were held in 86 cases, and non-jury trials were held in 64 cases.

Magistrate judges handled 243,516 felony pretrial matters, an increase of 6 percent. In felony cases, they ruled on 157,841 non-dispositive motions (up 11 percent) and issued reports and recommendations on 2,665 dispositive motions (down 14 percent). Magistrate judges conducted 27,519 felony guilty plea proceedings (down 4 percent).

The number of felony preliminary proceedings handled by magistrate judges rose 8 percent to 490,212. Compared with 2020, magistrate judges handled more search warrant applications (up 30 percent to 149,113), arrest warrants/summonses (up 13 percent to 61,387), arraignments (up 7 percent to 52,153), initial appearances (up 3 percent to 97,452), and detention hearings (up 1 percent to 46,820). Magistrate judges handled fewer complaints (down 20 percent to 40,058), preliminary examinations (down 7 percent to 19,991), and material witness proceedings (down 3 percent to 6,187).

Magistrate judges disposed of Class A misdemeanor cases with 2,999 defendants (down 9 percent). They disposed of petty offense cases with 22,923 defendants, a reduction of 59 percent that occurred primarily because the COVID-19 pandemic led to a steep drop in prosecutions of immigration crime defendants charged with petty offenses.

In cases brought by prisoners, including cases involving habeas corpus petitions and civil rights claims, magistrate judges issued 22,834 reports and recommendations (down 9 percent) and conducted 188 evidentiary hearings (up 3 percent).

Since 2017, the total number of matters disposed of by magistrate judges has grown 12 percent. Magistrate judges have handled more felony pretrial matters (up 26 percent) and felony preliminary proceedings (up 29 percent), primarily because of increased search warrant applications (up 74 percent). The number of civil matters they have handled on referral from district judges has risen 2 percent, largely because magistrate judges have disposed of more non-dispositive motions (up 10 percent). Compared with 2017, magistrate judges have handled fewer Class A misdemeanor and petty offense cases (down 66 percent), Social Security appeal reports and recommendations (down 38 percent), and reports and recommendations in prisoner cases (down 14 percent), and they have concluded fewer civil cases by consent (down less than 1 percent).

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