Although Idaho’s Magistrate Courts are the limited jurisdiction courts for the state, they see more cases than any other type. Eighty-three judges sit on Magistrate Court benches. Cases resolved in Magistrate Courts are generally less expensive and quicker.
The types of cases heard in Magistrate Court are misdemeanors, civil cases where the amount is less than $10,000, juvenile cases, family cases including divorce, alimony, child support, custody, domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect along with juvenile delinquency. These courts also handle probate cases for wills, estate and guardianships, and personal injury cases. The most common type of cases in Magistrate Court are traffic violations. There is at least one judge per county in the Magistrate Court system. These courts occasionally also hold preliminary hearings for felonies. Judges have the power to issue search and arrest warrants.
Idaho has an Integrated Court System, and so Magistrate judges also handle small claims. Therefore, Magistrate Court is sometimes referred to as the “people’s court.” Magistrate Courts are the small claims court for the state and handle small claims cases of $4,000 or less. These are non-jury proceedings, and all of the cases are self-represented by the individuals involved. The proceedings are informal and relaxed designed to settle minor claims quickly and inexpensively. Anyone over the age of eighteen can file a small claims suit. An example would be a tenant/landlord dispute over a security deposit.
Only 2% of the cases heard in Magistrate Court are juvenile cases. Half (50%) are infractions of some type, 21% are for misdemeanors, 21% are for civil disputes, domestic relations cases make up 4% of the total and the remaining 2% are for felony hearings. Idaho Magistrate Courts average about 346,500 cases per year. However, there has been a steady decline in the total for the past five years.