South Dakota’s Magistrate Courts are the lowest trial courts in the state and the limited jurisdiction courts. Magistrate Courts handle tort cases, real property cases of $12,000 or less, exclusive small claims cases of up to $12,000, petty misdemeanors, preliminary felony and serious criminal hearings, exclusive traffic issues, and other local ordinance violations.
Magistrate Courts in South Dakota have either lay magistrates or magistrate judges that preside over them. The Magistrate Court judges need to be licensed attorneys, but the lay magistrates only need to have a high school diploma before taking office. Either lay magistrate or judge can perform marriages, issues warrants, receive depositions, set bail, hear preliminary hearings, accept pleas for class 2 misdemeanors and process non-contested small claims actions of $12,000 or less. There are 15 full-time and one part-time magistrate in the state of South Dakota. These courts are spread over seven judicial circuits.
The types of cases resolved in Magistrate Courts are tort cases, real property of $12,000 or less, exclusive small claims of $12,000 or less, traffic violations, and other ordinance offenses. They also assist Circuit Courts with processing minor criminal cases and hold preliminary hearings for felonies. They have the authority to hear less serious civil actions as well.
The South Dakota Unified Justice System website has dozens of resources for self-represented litigants, which many who visit Magistrate Courts will be. They offer an online portal to pay fines, fees and other court charges, a page full of forms for filing a case in Magistrate Court, and programs to help assist offenders who struggle with veterans’ issues, mental health problems, and drug and alcohol addictions. Additionally, they support families with things like child custody, parenting help, adoptions, mediation as an alternative to divorce, and other community-supported programs.