Citizens have more contact with District Court than any other court in the state. District Court has exclusive jurisdiction of all civil litigation up to $25,000 and handles garnishments, eviction proceedings, land contract and mortgage foreclosures and other proceedings. In the criminal field, the District Court handles all misdemeanors where punishment does not exceed one year, relevant proceedings including arraignment, setting and acceptance of bail, trial and sentencing. It also conducts preliminary examinations in felony cases.
The District Court includes a small claims division for civil cases up to $1,750 in 1999, $3,000 in 2000, and $5,000 beginning September 1, 2012. In these cases, litigants agree to waive their right to a jury, rules of evidence, representation by a lawyer and the right to appeal from the District Judge's decision. If either party objects, the case will be heard by the general civil division of the District Court.
By statute, District Judges have authority to appoint Magistrates. Magistrates may set bail and accept bond in criminal matters, accept guilty pleas and sentence for traffic, motor carrier and snowmobile violations and dog, game and marine law violations. The Magistrate may also issue arrest and search warrants authorized by the prosecutor or municipal attorney. Attorney Magistrates may hear small claims cases. Magistrates may, at the direction of the Chief Judge, perform other duties allowed by statute.
District Judges are elected for six-year terms on nonpartisan ballots, under the same requirements as Circuit Judges. The Legislature sets the salary for District Judges.
In 1999, there were 3,298,468 new filings in Michigan District Courts. This represents an increase of 4% over the number of cases filed in 1996.
Between 1996 and 1999, criminal filings in District Court increased 7%, or by nearly 27,000 cases. Felony filings decreased by 8% and misdemeanor filings increased by 10% reflecting to an extent the felony/misdemeanor change in jurisdictional limits for some crimes. Criminal civil infractions increased by 88% as law enforcement agencies used them increasingly.
As of April 1, 2003, the 78th District Court encompasses Newaygo and Oceana Counties.