How to Become a Justice of the Peace

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A justice of the peace is a low-level judicial officer who is endowed with the authority to perform a variety of minor legal tasks. In most places, becoming a justice of the peace is a surprisingly simple process. To qualify for the position, show proof that you’re a resident of the state or territory you plan to work in and gain at least a basic knowledge of civil law. Once that’s done, submit a formal application for the position and wait to be approved by a committee.

EditSteps

EditMeeting the Basic Requirements

  1. Provide proof of residency in the state or territory you want to work in. In order to be eligible to serve as a justice of the peace, you’ll need to be able to show that you’re a legal citizen where you live. The exact procedure for doing so varies from place to place. Contact your local state department office to find out more about the specific requirements for your region.[1]
    Become a Justice of the Peace Step 1.jpg
    • Proving residency is often as simple as filling out a few forms and producing documents that show that you’ve lived in the area for a specific amount of time.
    • In Texas, for instance, you must have lived in the state on a full-time basis for at least one year to be granted residency and therefore be eligible to become a justice of the peace.[2]
    • Rhode Island is the one exception to this rule in the U.S. In Rhode Island, non-residents who regularly conduct business in the state can apply to become justices of the peace.[3]
  2. Request a background check from your local police department. Head down to police headquarters and talk to a high-ranking officer about conducting a background check. As long as the investigation doesn’t turn up anything incriminating, the department will generate a document verifying that you have no past criminal charges, which you may be asked to present during the application process.[4]
    Become a Justice of the Peace Step 2.jpg
    • Alternatively, see if it’s possible to submit a request through their official website. Some police departments are authorized to carry out background checks remotely.
    • Having a clean record is a must if you hope to be bestowed any kind of power under the law.
  3. Confirm your voter registration status with your local election office. In addition to being law-abiding citizens, all candidates for a justice of the peace position must also be registered to vote in their home state. If you don’t have a voter registration card (or if yours has expired), contact the election office for your district to check your registration status. It may be necessary for you to re-register or update the info that’s on file.
    Become a Justice of the Peace Step 3.jpg
    • You can find the contact information for your local election office by visiting https://www.usa.gov/election-office.
    • To register as a voter or change out-of-date information, you’ll need to use the official voter registration form issued by your state.[5]

EditExpanding Your Knowledge of the Law

  1. Study criminal justice to improve your odds of being approved. While there are usually no formal educational requirements to become a justice of the peace, having a background in law can certainly help. Consider enrolling in a criminal justice program through an accredited four-year university. Your time there will give you a better understanding of how laws are officiated on a local and national level.[6]
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    • If you don’t have the time, money, or interest to enter a degree program, see about auditing classes in criminal justice and other relevant subjects in your spare time.[7]
  2. Earn your law degree to add distinction to your credentials. Seeking a law degree is the next step up from completing a basic education. To obtain a law degree, you’ll first need to have earned a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a related field. You can then begin applying to law schools that suit your individual preferences.[8]
    Become a Justice of the Peace Step 5.jpg
    • Undergraduate degrees in criminal justice, history, English, sociology, and political science all translate well to the study of law.[9]
    • Most law programs take an average of 3-4 years to complete.
  3. Take advantage of continuing education if you’re unable to go to school. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of earning a degree, another option is to attend various seminars, special interest talks, and non-degree courses on legal subjects being offered in your area. These are often open to non-degree holders and people with no prior college education. The broader your foundational knowledge of the law is, the better your chances of being confirmed as a justice of the peace.[10]
    Become a Justice of the Peace Step 6.jpg
    • Make sure the institution offering the course is accredited before you sign up. Unaccredited education may not carry the same weight in the eyes of your state’s reviewing committee.[11]
    • In some cases, continuing education is a requirement of serving as a justice of the peace, so it can help to already have some experience under your belt. Justices of the peace in the state of Texas, for instance, are required to complete 80 hours of continuing education during their first year in office.[12]

EditApplying for the Position

  1. Fill out an application at your local state department office or website. Applying to be a justice of the peace is similar to applying for most other jobs. Get in touch with your local state department office by phone or email to find out how to access the application form and get the process started. It should only take a few minutes to complete.[13]
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    • In the majority of U.S. states, the application forms for justice of the peace positions are available online. [14]
  2. Provide a list of professional or character references if asked. Almost all issuing bodies ask candidates to supply 3-4 references along with their application. Call or visit the website of your local state department office to learn more about references and whether or not they’re required. If you’re permitted to choose your own, current and former employers, educators, and professional colleagues can be great people to ask.[15]
    Become a Justice of the Peace Step 8.jpg
    • Keep in mind that there may be highly specific criteria for the references you list depending on where you live. In New Hampshire, for instance, a candidate’s references must include two current justices of the peace and one registered voter.[16]
    • You may also be expected to present a one-page letter of recommendation from one of your references.
  3. Pay the required filing fee for your application. Most government offices charge a fee for processing official applications. Depending on how things are done in your state or territory, you may be able to make a payment online through your local state department’s website. If that’s not an option, you’ll have to pay in person or via mail when you go to turn in your application.[17]
    Become a Justice of the Peace Step 9.jpg
    • The fees associated with filing an application for a justice of the peace position typically range from $ 70-80.
  4. Submit your completed application form online, in person, or by mail. Before putting in your application, take a few minutes to make sure you’ve filled it out in its entirety and that all of the information it contains is accurate and up-to-date. Attach copies of all other required documents, including your letter of recommendation and background check. Then, send off your application, drop it in the mail, or take it down to your local state department office in person.
    Become a Justice of the Peace Step 10.jpg
    • It may take up to 3 weeks before you hear back about whether you’ve been approved for the position.
    • Once you’ve been confirmed, you’ll be legally recognized as a justice of the peace for 4-5 after the date of commission.[18]

EditTips

  • As a justice of the peace, you’ll be able to perform a wide range of minor legal duties such as certifying documents, witnessing legal proceedings like land transfers, and taking declarations and affidavits for use in court.
  • These days, fewer and fewer justices of the peace are granted the power to perform marriages. However, this still may fall under the heading of your responsibilities, depending on where you live.

EditThings You’ll Need

  • Driver’s license, birth certificate, or social security card
  • Valid voter registration card
  • State-specific justice of the peace application form
  • Signed letter of recommendation
  • Application filing fee
  • Four-year degree in law or related subject (optional)

EditSources and Citations

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