Magistrate Court is where defendants in criminal cases first appear soon after they are arrested. The Magistrate Judge will review the charges to determine whether or not there is probable cause for the arrest and detention of the defendant. The Magistrate Judge will inform defendants of their charges, their legal rights, decide whether or not to set bail, consider whether personal bond is appropriate, issue an Order Setting the Bail amount, issue an Order of Conditions of Release on Bond, and facilitate or make the appointment of an attorney to represent the Defendant, if appropriate.
Magistration will include defendants charged with misdemeanors as well as felony offenses. Bail is the money or property pledged to the court directly or indirectly through the services of a surety or bail bond company as a guarantee that a defendant who is released from jail will return and appear for their court hearings.
Magistrate Court is scheduled to be held every day, even on holidays. At Magistration, the Magistrate Judge will not ask for or receive a plea on the charged offense(s). Such pleas may only be received in the Court when and where the defendant’s case is filed by the prosecutor. The District Court or County Court-at-Law are the Courts where a defendant will enter a plea to the crime with which they are charged.
Contact With The Court
"A Judge...shall not directly or indirectly initiate, permit, nor consider ex parte or other private communications concerning the merits of a pending or impending judicial proceeding. A Judge shall require compliance with this subsection by court personnel subject to his or her direction and control... " Judicial Code of Conduct Cannon 3 Section A(5)
The Magistrate Judge has the following General Functions and Duties.
The Damon Allen Act of 2021 mandates that Magistrate Judges use the statewide Public Safety Report System as developed by the Texas Office of Court Administration, which enables a review of the defendant’s criminal history as part of the safety risk assessment in setting bail. The PSRS system also generates summary reports of the magistration setting bail and includes bond conditions and warnings to be provided to the defendant magistrated. (See C.C.P. Art. 17.021 CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CHAPTER 17. BAIL (texas.gov)).
The Magistrate Judge also has the following Special Functions and Duties:
A "bail bond" is a written agreement entered into by the defendant and the defendant's sureties for the appearance of the principal therein before a court or magistrate to answer a criminal accusation; provided, however, that the defendant on execution of the bail bond may deposit with the Sheriff as custodian of funds of the court in which the prosecution is pending, U.S. currency or money in the amount of the bond in lieu of having sureties signing the same. Any cash funds deposited under in this way shall be receipted by the officer receiving the funds and, on order of the court or magistrate, be refunded in the amount shown on the face of the receipt less the administrative fee authorized by Section 117.055, Local Government Code, if applicable, after the defendant complies with the conditions of the defendant's bond, to:
Texas law does not permit a Magistrate Judge to issue an order for a ‘split bond’; such as partly in cash and partly in surety, or partly personal and partly surety or cash. (Opinion JC-0215).
Occasionally, as appropriate, the Magistrate Judge will modify or conduct hearings to review and consider modification of bond amounts or conditions of release on bond. Occasionally, the Magistrate Judge will enforce the condition order and order the revocation of bond and the issuance of a capias warrant for the arrest of the defendant, particularly when the Defendant has failed to substantially comply with the conditions as previously ordered.
During times of a declared emergency, the Governor has the power and the authority to suspend certain provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure including sections dealing with a defendant's release on bond. (Abbott Executive Order GA 2019 EO13).
In Texas, there are three types of orders of protection based on family violence, only one applying to the Magistrate Court:
If a person is arrested and charged with a type of family violence assault, sometimes it may be appropriate to consider obtaining a Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection. Usually applications for such protective orders are filed by the arresting or investigating officer, but may also be filed by the victim, or both. Typically the Magistrate will consider the MOEP application at the time of magistration of the defendant.
What is a Protective Order?
What is a Protective Order?
It can order the other person to:
The police can arrest the other person for violating any of these orders.
Prior to a defendant being indicted for a felony offense or an information or complaint being filed for a misdemeanor offense the cases are considered to be in a ‘pre-file’ status, and the Magistrate Court has jurisdiction of all such cases and matters. Every pleading, plea, motion, or application to the Magistrate Court for an order, whether in the form of a motion, plea, or other form of request, unless presented during a hearing, should be filed with the clerk of the court in writing, must state the grounds therefor, must set forth the relief or order sought, conform to the Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Local Rules of the Jefferson County Courts-at-Law and District Courts, and at the same time a true copy must be served on all other parties, and must be noted on the docket.
At the Magistrate’s Hearing, each defendant shall be provided an opportunity to request court appointed counsel, if indigent. Each requesting defendant shall complete and file a sworn Affidavit of Indigent Status, in a form approved by the State. The Magistrate will ensure that reasonable assistance in completing the necessary forms for requesting appointment of counsel is provided. If the defendant does not speak and/or understand the English language or is deaf, the magistrate shall inform the person in a manner consistent with Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Articles 38.30 and 38.31.
If an indigent defendant is entitled to and requests appointed counsel, the Magistrate shall appoint counsel as soon as possible but not later than the end of the third working day after the date on which the Magistrate receives the defendant's request for appointment of counsel.
The Magistrate shall immediately transmit the Affidavit of Indigence, and Defendant’s Request for Court Appointed Counsel to a District Judge in felony cases and to a County Court-at-Law Judge in misdemeanor cases.The Judge making court appointments of counsel for indigents shall review the Affidavit of Indigence and such other information bearing on the financial status of the defendant and make a determination of indigence status and appoint counsel where required by law within 3 working days after receiving the request for court appointed counsel. In determining indigence, the Judge shall presume indigence if the defendant's income is below 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The Judge making court appointments of counsel for indigents shall consider the following standards for determining indigence and such other reasonable factors as the court finds to have a bearing on the financial inability of a defendant to retain counsel:
The Sandra Bland Act of 2017 mandates county jails assess arrested people and report those with mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse issues to be diverted toward treatment. It made it easier for defendants to receive a personal bond if they have a mental illness or intellectual disability, and required that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths. That Act has been made a part of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/CR/htm/CR.16.htm#16.22
Upon arrest and detention in the Jefferson County Jail, that Act requires the Sheriff or jailer to assess whether there is reasonable cause to believe that a defendant charged with a Class B misdemeanor or higher offense has a mental illness or an intellectual disability, and if so, to notify the Magistrate. Consequently, the Magistrate Judge reviews such written assessments on every such person arrested and booked into the jail and issues a Mental Health Evaluation (16.22) Order. If the Magistrate Judge determines that such reasonable cause exists, the 16.22 Order issued requires a further evaluation and report by a qualified mental health or developmental disability expert. If the resulting evaluation confirms the assessment, the evaluation is sent and the defendant may be referred to mental health services. All such 16.22 Assessments, Orders and Reports are confidential and not generally subject to disclosure.
Jefferson County utilizes a timely and fair appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in Jefferson County, Texas, as described above. According to the Plan, a defendant may complete an Affidavit of Indigent Status and Application for Court Appointed Attorney at or following Magistration.indigent defendant is entitled to and requests appointed counsel, the Magistrate or Judge will appoint counsel as soon as possible but not later than the end of the third working day after the date on which the Magistrate receives the defendant's request for appointment of counsel.
The Magistrate Judge assigns attorneys and makes appointments for indigent defendants in all unfiled misdemeanor cases, according to the Indigent Defense Plan on file for Jefferson County.