The criminal jurisdiction of Magistrate Court consists of considering and issuing arrest and search warrants, hearing County Ordinance violations and bad check citations, conducting preliminary hearings, First Appearance hearings and setting of bond in most cases. Magistrate Judges are available 24 hours a day, 365 days each year to consider arrest and search warrant requests from law enforcement officials and will consider warrant requests from private individuals during normal hours of operation.
The issuance of arrest and search warrants are among the most important duties of the Magistrate Court. The law requires that a ‘neutral and detached Magistrate’ consider sworn testimony before any arrest or search warrant may be issued. Both the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution require that a person may only be arrested or his or her home or business searched by law enforcement officials upon a showing of probable cause. Magistrate Judges are available to law enforcement officials 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to consider the applications for arrest and search warrants.
There are times when a private individual will seek the arrest of another private individual for an alleged crime. Georgia law requires a hearing before an arrest warrant can be issued at the request of a private individual for the arrest of another private individual except in very limited circumstances. These hearings are referred to as ‘Prewarrant Hearings’ and Magistrate Judges conduct these hearings on a weekly basis.
If a private citizen seeks the arrest of another private citizen a written request for a warrant must be made to the Magistrate Court during normal work hours. The warrant request must be the sworn allegation of the person seeking the warrant. The person requesting the arrest warrant must first make a police report and will need the name, address, Social Security Number, date of birth and other identifying information for the alleged offender. Although some of this information may be difficult to obtain, the information is required because, assuming a warrant is issued, law enforcement will need the information to enter the warrant into the Georgia Crime Information Center’s computer. If the warrant fails to have this information, law enforcement officials will have no way to locate and indentify the offender.
If a warrant request is made by a private citizen in absence of exigent circumstances, the person whose arrest is sought is entitled to receive notice of any scheduled hearing. A hearing will be conducted before a Magistrate Judge and a decision will be made as to whether the arrest warrant should be issued, not issued or some other disposition of the case should be made. If an arrest warrant is issued, the warrant will be forwarded to the Sheriff for execution and the case will ultimately be sent to the District Attorney for prosecution.
When an arrest warrant is issued – without regard as to whether it was requested by a private citizen or a law enforcement official – a Magistrate Judge will consider the issue of bond (bail). In most cases a Magistrate Judge will be responsible for the issue of bond. The Magistrate Judge will consider the facts of the case, the history of the offender, and all other circumstances made known to the Magistrate in deciding the issue of bond. Bond is not intended as punishment, rather, is intended to ensure that the Defendant will appear at trial to answer for the charges. Except in misdemeanor cases, the Magistrate Judge may refuse bond but only if he or she finds that certain circumstances exist which suggest that no amount of bond will ensure that the Defendant will appear for trial or poses such a risk to the community that the Defendant should not be released on bond.