The magistrate system was established in 1974 to replace the justice of the peace system. While magistrates are not judges possessing trial jurisdiction, they are an integral part of the judicial system and are judicial officers of the commonwealth of Virginia. The principal function of the magistrate is to provide an independent, unbiased review of complaints brought to the office by police officers, sheriffs or their deputies, and citizens.

Magistrates are not police officers, nor are they in any way connected with law enforcement. Instead, magistrates are issuing officers serving as a buffer between law enforcement and society. Most magistrates are not lawyers; however, they are specially trained to perform such duties as issuing search warrants, subpoenas, arrest warrants, summonses, and setting bail. In addition, magistrates may assist the public by providing information on the judicial system processes and procedures.

Magistrates will try to assist you by providing general information, but they are generally not attorneys and cannot give legal advice. If you wish to retain your own attorney or obtain legal advice, but do not know an attorney, you may obtain the name and telephone number of a local attorney from the Virginia State Bar Referral Service by calling 800-552-7977.