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Justice of the Peace

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The American office of Justice of the Peace was initially based upon a 12th century English tradition. Over time the tradition evolved, and beginning around 1360, Justices of the Peace became the official title of gentry serving at the king's behest. This strengthened royal jurisdiction and feudal fidelity and compliance. Justices were granted an impressive amount of power over administrative and police authority, as well as authority over most criminal cases.[1]

When the American colonies adopted the office, these duties remained largely in-tact, but by the 19th century most had been abandoned, as the developing American judiciary began to take precedence over the anachronistic model of its British predecessor.

Justice of the Peace in Modern Times

In the United States, a Justice's power is a state-specific prerogative--many, even, have disposed the office.

Justices in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, Justices are appointed by the Governor, and they serve for seven years. Jurisdiction is based upon city or town limits, and depending on residency, each city or town could have more than one Justice (one Justice is alloted for every 5000 residents within city and town limits). People interested in becoming Justices of the Peace must seek out the Secretary of State's office, first to find out if there is currently a Justice in their town, and secondly to fill out an application.

In Massachusetts, Justices preside over marriage ceremonies.[2]

Justices in Texas

Each county in the State of Texas is required (by the State Constitution) to have between one and eight Justices of the Peace--depending on population. Also, and again, dependent upon population, each Texas precinct is required to have either one or two Justice of the Peace Courts. Texas has roughly 826 such courts.

Texan Justices of the Peace have jurisdiction over Class C misdemeanor criminal cases, and minor civil matters. They may also issue arrests or warrants, and may act as the coroner for counties that do not have a medical examiner. Justice of the Peace Courts may also function as small-claims courts.[3]

Justices in New Hampshire

In order to become a New Hampshire Justice, applicants must be: residents of New Hampshire, a registered voter for three years prior to the application, a clean crime record, an endorsement from two standing Justices, comply with a police background check, and pay a $75 fee for the five-year term. Following the application process, applicants must be confirmed by both the Governor and state Council. Powers for New Hampshire Justices include: acknowledgments, oaths and affirmations, jurats, depositions, copy certifications, witnessing or attesting signatures, protests, and marriage ceremonies.[4]

Justices in Delaware

The Delaware Constitution (Article IV, Section I) authorizes the establishment of Justice of the Peace Courts. Considered entry-level, they have jurisdiction over: civil cases involving debt, trespassing, landlord/tenant summary possession proceedings, and replevin so long as the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000. They are also allowed to hear certain misdemeanor and most motor vehicle cases; they are additionally allowed to act as Committing magistrates for all crime. See Justice of the Peace Court Jurisdiction for a comprehensive list.

Justices in Connecticut

Since 1666, Justices have played a vital role in the Connecticut court system; by the end of the 17th century, Justices were permitted jurisdiction over minor cases. By 1939, Connecticut courts had been considerably revamped. In that year, the trial justice system was restructured, and powers formally left to Justices of the Peace now belonged to specially designated trial justices.[5]

Connecticut Justices can perfom the following:

  • Officiate marriages
  • Take depositions
  • Administer oaths and affirmations
  • Take acknowledgments

Justices in Vermont

Vermont has long-honored the office of Justice of the Peace. As of 2000, it was home to over 1800 Justices. Created by the Vermont Constitution of 1777, prospective Justices (from its inception until 1786) were put to a county-wide vote. After 1786, the state Constitution was amended--now, the General Assembly was to elect them. In 1850, the Constitution adjusted this procedure one last time and reflects the current status whereby citizens elect their own Justices, town-by-town.[6]

See also

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References