What Do Justices of the Peace Do?
The position of justice of the peace originated in England in 1361 with the passing of the Justice of the Peace Act. Back then they were charged with protecting the “King’s (Sovereign’s) peace”. To do this, they were granted the powers to hear and determine felonies and petty offenses against the peace, as well as, the power to pass judgment. When the British colonized America in the 1600s they brought the institution along with them. During that time, justices of the peace settled disputes between neighbors and prevented friction where possible. Justices of the peace would settle these disputes using nothing more than their own judgment and common sense. But as the centuries passed, governments past enacted laws that prescribed how these disputes would be handled. As a result, justices of the peace no longer had the power to settle disputes based on their discretion.
Today, justices of the peace preside over the lowest state courts and settle minor criminal offenses. They, unlike their predecessors, apply laws to settle civil disputes and punish offenses. Justices of the peace are either appointed or elected to their position. Many states will not require legal training as a prerequisite. Once appointed or elected, justices of the peace may serve through the full length of their term in office or may resign. Justices of the peace can, however, be removed from the position. Official misconduct or conviction for a misdemeanor or felony is just two reasons why a justice of the peace may be fired.
Though limited by their jurisdiction, justices of the peace perform a number of duties. The duties they perform depend on the laws governing their position in the state they live in. Justices of the peace will routinely issue arrest or search warrants, perform marriage ceremonies, handle routine traffic offenses, determine Probable Cause, impose fines, and conduct inquests. They also have the power – given that they are considered conservators of the peace – to order the removal of persons engaging in disorderly conduct from a public space. As part of their duty, they will handle cases of criminal and civil disputes involving misdemeanors, infractions, and petty offenses. Justices of the peace who operate at the highest level have the authority to preside over cases involving contracts, torts, injuries to personal property, and personal injuries such as libel, slander, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Besides this long list of responsibilities, justices of the peace are also tasked with performing administrative duties such as administering oaths or affirmations, witnessing statutory declarations, taking affidavits, witnessing signatures, and attesting and certifying documents.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average justice of the peace earned a yearly salary of $90,600. Employment growth for justices of the peace is predicted to increase by a measly 1% in the next 7 years.