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Jurisdiction of the Courts

District courts and district court judges have jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. They decide cases involving the most serious criminal cases, felonies, and typically hear civil cases where the amount of money in dispute exceeds $10,000. Civil damage actions usually involve personal injury, such as automobile negligence cases, and contractual disputes between parties. District judges also hear post-conviction relief actions, in which a defendant is challenging his/her conviction or incarceration. District judges also hear appeals from decisions made by magistrate judges.

Generally, Magistrate judges hear less serious criminal matters, known as misdemeanors, and can handle civil cases where the amount of money involved does not exceed $10,000.

Specifically, Magistrate judges hold preliminary hearings to determine whether to bind over and send a defendant to the district court for trial on a felony charge; child protective act cases to determine whether an abused child is one who has been the victim of physical harm, failure to thrive, or sexual molestation, whether an abandoned child is one whose parents have failed to support or maintain regular personal contact with the child, or whether a neglected child is one who is without proper parental care and/or control either due to their omission or because they are in prison, hospitalized, or otherwise physically or mentally unable to care for the child (A child who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of the law may also be deemed a neglected child.); adoption/termination of parental rights - All proceedings concerning adoption or termination of parental rights are closed to the public, as well as court records of adoptions. Termination of parental rights means that parents give up all rights, obligations, and responsibilities for the child.; guardianship of minors to appoint a person or institution to make decisions concerning the physical care and custody of a minor child; guardianship of incapacitated persons to appoint a person or institution to make decisions concerning the physical care and custody of an incapacitated person (An incapacitated person is anyone who lacks the physical or intellectual power to take care of themselves.); informal and formal estate proceedings (probate) process of proving a will, or in general, the legal process of the settlement of a decedent's estate through the court process. An informal estate is usually just the filing of the will with no hearings. Formal estates will entail hearings.); BAC driver's license suspension proceedings are cases opened when a person refuses to submit or fails to complete testing for a concentration of alcohol and are NOT criminal proceedings but are entered as special cases; habeas corpus proceedings which include a variety of orders or writs whose ojbect is to bring a person before a court or judge. It is directed to the official or person detaining another, commanding him to produce the prisoner or person detained so the court may determine if that person has been denied his liberty without due process of law; name changes such as married name back to maiden name, adults legally changing their names, etc.; claim compromise where a personal injury claim has been decided and the insurance company is stating that they agree with the court's decision; trusts are legal documents stating to whom property, money, securities, etc. are legally committed to be administered for the benefit of a beneficiary; hospital hearings to commit a person to a hospital or institution; shelter hearings to remove a child from his home without a court order if it appears that the child is in danger of serious physical or mental injury; permission to marry for anyone under the age of 16 that wishes to marry must file documents and get the court's permission; fugitive warrants for any person that has fled from the state and has criminal charges pending; post-conviction relief filed by a person who has been convicted and sentenced and believes the sentence was too harsh or that they had ineffective assistance of counsel; out-of-state witness to bring a witness back to Idaho for a criminal case; governors warrants issued by the Governor of Idaho and directed to authorities in another state to return a fugitive to Idaho concerning a criminal charge.

Magistrate judges also sit as judges in the "people's court," the Small Claims Department. Small claims involve civil disputes where less than $4,000 is in question. These cases are heard informally without attorneys being present or with the involvement of juries. A person can appeal a small claims decision made by a magistrate judge to another magistrate. Small claims court trials are designed to be quick and relaxed to allow consumers and business people an inexpensive method of settling minor claims. Any person over eighteen years of age can file a suit in the Small Claims Department. Some examples of the types of cases that might be filed in the Small Claims Department are: a tenant suing for return of his/her security deposit, a laundry customer seeking payment for lost or damaged clothing, an individual seeking payment on a bad check or past due bills.

The greatest number of cases handled by magistrate judges are misdemeanor and infraction cases. Infraction cases constitute the largest share of the total trial court caseload. Infraction and misdemeanor cases come to the court system most frequently in the form of a traffic citation or "ticket" issued by law enforcement to the defendant. In Idaho, all traffic violations are handled by the magistrate division of the district court. The method of handling traffic citations depends upon whether the offense is an infraction or misdemeanor. Any person issued a Uniform Citation is required to acknowledge service of the summons by signing a "promise to appear" printed on the bottom of the citation. The signature of the person receiving the citation indicates only a promise to appear and is not in any way an admission of guilt. If the driver refuses to sign the written promise to appear, the law enforcement officer may serve the citation on the defendant by personal delivery to him.

For misdemeanor traffic offenses, the defendant is normally required to appear in court in the county where the offense is alleged to have happened. The defendant may request arraignment on the charge in another county more convenient to him. This request is made to the officer issuing the citation who may grant or deny it. In the event of a plea of not guilty is subsequently entered on a citation transferred from another county, the case may be sent back and the trial held in the county where the offense allegedly occurred. Citations are filed in court by the issuing officer with the court indicated on the summons. If the defendant fails to appear in court on the date indicated on the citation, the magistrate judge can issue a warrant for the arrest of the defendant. The charge is for failure to appear. When served, this warrant results in the arrest of the defendant and may lead to incarceration if the defendant is unable to post the bond set by the magistrate judge on the warrant. The amount of bail for misdemeanor traffic offenses is set forth in the Misdemeanor Criminal Rules. A defendant entering a plea of not guilty to a misdemeanor traffic citation charge may have a trial before a judge or jury. A trial before the judge is a relatively informal procedure if the defendant is not represented by an attorney. The prosecuting attorney is representing the governmental body that issued the citation. A trial by jury always involves a prosecutor for the state and the defendant is advised, although not required, to have counsel. Once a penalty is imposed, the defendant remains in the custody of the court until fines and court costs have been paid. If a defendant is able to pay the fine, but refuses to pay, the defendant can be incarcerated in the county jail until fines and costs are satisfied at the rate of $5.00 per day. Rather than incarceration, many courts offer defendants the opportunity to perform community service work in lieu of payment of fines.

Minor traffic offenses in Idaho are called infractions. An infraction is not a crime, but is a civil public offense for which there is a penalty not exceeding $100.00 and for which there is no imprisonment. The Supreme Court has established by court rule a fixed penalty schedule for infraction violations. The fixed penalties cannot be increased, decreased, suspended, or withheld by any court. The penalty is more in the nature of a fee and the fixed penalty is not a criminal fine. Because an infraction is not a crime, a defendant may never be arrested for an infraction and may never be required to post bail. Because an infraction is civil in nature, if a defendant does not appear on an infraction citation, the driver cannot be prosecuted for a misdemeanor for failure to appear. Instead, if the defendant fails to appear, default judgment can be entered against the driver in the same manner as in any other civil action. Also, because the infractions are civil in nature, the defendant is entitled to a court trial only. The defendant may admit the infraction charge and pay the fixed penalty by either appearing at the courthouse and paying the court clerk or by mailing the fixed penalty amount to the court. If the defendant denies the infraction charge, the clerk will set a date for a court trial. If the court enters a judgment finding the defendant committed an infraction charge, either by entry of default judgment in those cases where the defendant failed to appear or by entering a judgment after a trial, the defendant is notified to pay the fixed penalty amount. If the defendant fails to pay a penalty after proper notice, the Department of Transportation suspends the driver's license. If the defendant resides out of state, the Department of Transportation can request that the defendant's resident state suspend the license. If the defendant then appears in court and pays the penalty, the defendant may have his license reinstated by the Department of Transportation. The Department requires the payment of a reinstatement fee before the license is issued.


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