Magisterial district judges preside over traffic, civil, landlord-tenant and other summary level cases, in addition to serving as the court of initial jurisdiction for all serious criminal offenses, including homicide, which are first filed in the magisterial district courts.
Criminal cases begin with the issuance of a summons, an arrest warrant, or with the person being directly brought before the court at the time of the incident.
In 2017 magisterial district judges issued 58,070 criminal arrest warrants.
Persons arrested on an arrest warrant are brought before the magisterial district judge for a preliminary arraignment where:
- They are informed of the charges against them;
- Notified of the date of their preliminary hearing;
- Offered the services of an attorney if they cannot afford one;
- Given an opportunity to make a phone call and to post bail, when appropriate;
- Are either released on bail or incarcerated at the conclusion of the proceeding.
Following review of the case at the preliminary hearing, the case may be dismissed, bound over to the higher court, or voluntarily waived to the higher court by the defendant. Following the preliminary hearing jurisdiction of the case is turned over to the Court of Common Pleas.