What is Federal Magistrate's Court?
By Tech. Sgt. Thomas Hamilton, 17th Training Wing Legal Office
/ Published April 27, 2009
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
So few military members deal with Federal Magistrate's Court that most do not know it exists. However, with many civilians working on or visiting military installations, there must be a forum in order to deal with criminal acts they commit. That is what Magistrate's Court is for. If you are a civilian, have a civilian spouse or have civilian friends, you should understand Federal Magistrate's Court.
Federal Magistrate's Court refers to the program through which Goodfellow cooperates with the Department of Justice in order to prosecute civilians who commit crimes on the installation. The vast majority of Goodfellow Air Force Base falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, and it lies with the area of responsibility of the Federal Northern District of Texas. Exclusive jurisdiction means that only the federal government may prosecute someone who commits a crime in the location, not the state of Texas.
Most of the citations written for civilians are for traffic violations and it is a common misbelief that Goodfellow's jurisdiction does not start until you pass through the gates. Goodfellow's jurisdiction begins at the roads entering both the north and south gates, beginning at Paint Rock and Chadbourne respectively. If a civilian is stopped by Security Forces for any traffic violation, the officer will issue them a United States District Court Violation Notice, Department of Defense Form 1805.
Most traffic violations allow the recipient to pay a fine through the Central Violations Bureau without having to appear before a judge. The fines range from $40 to $175. However, more severe types of misconduct will require people to appear in court. Any charge that is a Class A or B misdemeanor requires an appearance before the Magistrate Judge at the federal courthouse in downtown San Angelo, hence the name Magistrate's Court. The majority of Goodfellow cases heard by the judge include shoplifting, drug possession, and unlawful entry onto the installation.
Not all violations are committed by adults; juveniles also have a process in place to deal with their misconduct. Typically, the Juvenile Misconduct Board handles civilians under the age of 18 who commit crimes on base. The board is comprised of senior base leaders, the active duty servicemember's commander and first sergeant.
When meeting this board, the juvenile goes before the board with his or her active duty parent. This rehabilitative approach allows corrective measures for the minors without the stigma of appearing in court or having a federal conviction.
The board hears all evidence, decides whether the alleged misconduct occurred and imposes rehabilitative measures that could include community service, writing essays and other appropriate measures. Upon completion of the board's rehabilitative measures, the Department of Defense Form 1805 federal charge is dismissed.
Goodfellow Air Force Base requires a safe and secure environment in order to maintain good order and discipline. As such, authorities need the ability to handle civilian misconduct that falls outside the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Magistrate's program, in concert with the Juvenile Misconduct Board, allows the base to expeditiously and fairly dispose of the wide range of violations committed on Goodfellow.