What is a Magistrate?

In Texas, a “magistrate” is any judge who has the authority to issue search and arrest warrants and to give initial warnings to those who have been arrested.  Justices of the Peace are the most common of the magistrate judges.  However, virtually every type of judge in Texas is a magistrate.  Specifically, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 2.09, provides that the following types of judges are “magistrates”:

  • Justices of the Texas Supreme Court
  • Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals
  • Justices of the Courts of Appeals
  • District Court Judges
  • County Judges
  • County Court at Law Judges
  • County Criminal Court Judges
  • Statutory Probate Judges
  • Associate Judges (some, but not all)
  • Justices of the Peace
  • Mayors and Recorders of Incorporated Cities and Towns
  • Municipal Court Judges
  • Magistrate Judges appointed in Bexar, Brazoria, Brazos, Dallas, Jefferson, Lubbock, Nolan, Nueces, Tarrant, Travis, Webb & Williamson Counties
  • Criminal Law Hearings Officers appointed in Cameron & Harris Counties

The law requires that any individual who has been arrested by a peace officer must be brought before a magistrate “without unnecessary delay.”  Forty-eight (48) hours is the maximum amount of time that an accused must wait before a magistrate warns him of his respective rights, as required by law.  When a prisoner has been “magistrated,” that generally means that he has appeared before a judge who has advised him of the legal accusations which have been levied against him, provided certain warning about his rights (such as the right to an attorney), and set an initial bond amount, if any, for his release.

Outside of Texas, the term “magistrate” takes on different meanings.  In ancient Rome, a magistrate was one of the highest governmental officials with both judicial and executive powers.  In some other countries, prosecutors are also considered magistrates. 

–Bonnie Sudderth, Judge of the 352nd District Court (and magistrate!)

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