In the United States, a justice of the peace is an appointed judicial officer who handles many kinds of minor legal issues. Justices of the peace are often lawyers, but this is not required in all jurisdictions. Justices are often people who have a degree in law or have experience working in the local court system. The duties of a justice of the peace differ according to state and municipality. They may also differ according to jurisdiction. Some duties are very common among all of them, however.
Marriages and Civil Unions
One of the most common and most-used duties of a justice of the peace is performing legal marriages and civil unions. This is often called a solemnization, made up of a short ceremony and legal paperwork. The requirements for a solemnization can vary greatly; some states require blood tests and other kinds of tests before a justice will perform the marriage, and some simply ask for a fee and an application. Some states, such as Texas, require a waiting period after filing the initial paperwork before the solemnization is done. Justice of the peace marriages are short and usually performed in the justice’s office or courtroom, making them attractive forms of weddings for people who do not have much money to spend on a ceremony or a full church wedding. However, justice of the peace marriages are every bit as legally binding as church weddings or those performed by clergy.
Another one of the most common duties of the justice of the peace is to preside over small claims courts and minor criminal courts. Small claims court is usually a court set up to decide civil matters in which the amount of the dispute will not exceed more than $10,000, although this amount can change according to state. Some, although not all, justices of the peace can also rule over minor criminal court cases in which the result is only punishable by fine, such as traffic hearings, disputes between tenants and landlords, and misdemeanors.
Justices of the peace can also often issue warrants. Most commonly, justices of the peace issue arrest warrants for people who have written bad checks or who have refused to appear at a mandatory court hearing. They can also issue warrants for speeding tickets and issue search warrants.
Depositions, Oaths and Affirmations
Justices of the peace are often called on to hear depositions, taking a testimony under oath, or to hear and witness legal oaths and affirmations, such as the signing of an affidavit. In some states or cities, justices of the peace can also notarize documents.