Cases / Matters
Civil Cases / Matters
The civil jurisdiction of Magistrate Court includes dispossessory actions (evictions), garnishments, and general civil actions where the amount of the controversy does not exceed $15,000. A civil case is one where a party seeks money damages from another party for alleged wrongs. The types of civil cases which the Court generally hears are suits for money owed from one party to another, claims for damage to person or property, landlord / tenant disputes, rights of possession matters and breach of contract cases. The only types of civil cases which cannot be considered by Magistrate Court are divorces, cases where equitable relief is sought and issues involving the title to land. All other civil matters may be heard by Magistrate Court, provided the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000.
Small Claims Court
Examples of small claims often taken to magistrate court include:
- An auto mechanic charging for work not done, unnecessary repairs or faulty workmanship.
- A driver refusing to pay for repairs after denting someone's fender.
- A dry cleaner refusing to pay for lost or damaged clothing.
- A landlord failing to return a security deposit.
- A landlord seeking to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent.
- A merchant refusing to replace, repair or refund faulty merchandise.
- A person refusing to return money or property borrowed from another.
- A tenant refusing to pay for damages in excess of the security deposit.
You may file a claim in magistrate court in your own name without an attorney, or you may hire an attorney at your expense. Magistrate court cases are heard and decided by a judge without a jury. In some counties, mediation is recommended or required before a judge will hear the case.
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. Magistrates may grant bail in cases where the setting of bail is not exclusively reserved to a judge of another court.
Arrests & Warrants
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.
Private Individual Arrests
However, there are times when a private individual will seek the arrest of another private individual for an alleged crime. Georgia law was changed a few years ago to require 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 exceptional circumstances. These hearings are referred to as "Pre-warrant Hearings" and Magistrate Judges conduct these hearings on a weekly basis.
County Ordinance Violations
Magistrate Court also presides over all county ordinance violations, including possession of alcohol by those under the age of 21, animal control violations, illegal sale of alcohol, disorderly conduct and violations of zoning ordinances. The hearings on these citations occur several times each month. The hearings on County Ordinance violations will be conducted by either the Chief Magistrate Judge or the Associate Magistrate Judge.