Many Magistrate Court litigants represent themselves (Pro se) but the use of an attorney is permissible. Effective July 1, 2000, pursuant to O.C.G.A. 17-4-40, the Magistrate Court holds an increasing number of pre-issuance hearings on warrant applications. The purpose of these hearings is to allow all parties involved in a dispute to present evidence before a judge so that he can determine if there is probable cause for a warrant to be issued. The Magistrate Court cannot make a determination of guilt or innocence; it can only determine if there is sufficient probable cause for a case to go forward. Magistrate Court can adjudicate guilt or innocence in misdemeanor deposit account fraud ($1500 or less), county ordinance violations, furnishing alcoholic beverages to a person less than 21 years of age, purchase or possession of alcoholic beverages by person less than 21 years of age, criminal trespass, shoplifting, and possession of marijuana less than one ounce. All felony cases are held in Superior Court.
The Magistrate Judge holds initial appearance hearings Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10 am and Sunday at 5 pm for accused persons who are being held in jail. An accused person that is in jail must be brought before a judge for his first appearance hearing within 48 hours if he/she was arrested without a warrant and 72 hours if he/she was arrested with a warrant. The judge is required to advise the accused of his charges and inform hi/her of their constitutional rights to remain silent, to be represented by an attorney and the right for a preliminary hearing. Preliminary or committal hearings are held to determine probable cause for the accused that have been unable to post bond and are being held in jail. The Magistrate Court will schedule a bond hearing, upon request, so that the State and the accused may present evidence and/or reasons why bond should or should not be changed. Once an accused is indicted or an accusation has been drawn up, he/she loses their rights to a preliminary/committal hearing.
It is against the law for anyone in Magistrate Court to provide legal advice. If needed, one should consult an attorney.