Montour County, Pennsylvania – Magisterial District Court
Magisterial District Courts are the first level of court in the Pennsylvania legal system. Magisterial District Judges—or MDJs, as they are called—preside over traffic ticket cases, landlord tenant evictions, civil cases below $12,000 in value, summary trials for minor criminal citations, as well as preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings (the first steps in most misdemeanor or felony criminal prosecutions).
Pennsylvania’s least serious criminal offense is known as a “summary” offense. These offenses are sort of like traffic tickets, in that they typically come with a fine and no jail time (although jail time can result in some instances). Although they don’t create a formal criminal record, they will often still show up on background checks, so it’s important to consider your options before pleading guilty to one.
Summary offenses include harassment, disorderly conduct, retail theft, and a range of zoning infractions.
Small Claims Court
Magisterial District Courts also function as small claims courts. In Pennsylvania, lawsuits for sums under $12,000 can be brought in the MDCs, and if you obtain a judgment there, it can be made a final and binding lien against property or other items owned by a defendant.
The first court hearing in the process of evicting a tenant occurs at the Magisterial District Court. A landlord may file to have the tenant evicted if the landlord has complied with notice to quit requirements, and may also seek unpaid rents and other damages. If a landlord or tenant is displeased with the Magisterial District Judge’s decision, there is short period in which to appeal.
Preliminary Hearings and Preliminary Arraignments
We’ve covered preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings in other posts, but what’s important to note for our purposes in this article is that these hearings kick off the criminal prosecution. Being represented by an attorney at this stage means having the full range of options in front of you as you make important decisions about your case. Magisterial District Judges are charged with determining whether the Commonwealth has made out a prima facie case against the defendant—that is, whether there is probable cause for the charges. The MDJ also sets bail in criminal cases.
If you’re summoned before a Magisterial District Judge, you need an experienced attorney by your side.
Going to court in front of a Magisterial District Judge is no different than stepping into any courtroom. The consequences are real, and judgment in an MDC can affect the rest of your life.