About Connecticut JPs
About Massachusetts JPs
New Hampshire JPs About South Carolina
A Brief History of JPs
Along with their
meager possessions, the early English settlers brought to
the new world a well-developed set of ideas about laws and justice. And
though they sought freedom from an oppressive monarchy, they kept one of
the king's institutions: the Justice of the Peace.
The practice of appointing
knights to assist in maintaining order is first noted in England with an 1195 proclamation of Richard
I. Then in 1264, Simon de Montfort appointed Keepers
of the Peace in every county to serve at the pleasure of the king.
actual title "Justice of the Peace" was first used in a law enacted in
1362. Holders of the title were wealthy landowners who were happy to uphold
the Game Law and prosecute poachers. Later, they were charged with
administrating local policies and services such as the wage structure and
the maintenance of
roads and bridges.
Before the French Revolution, justice was
administered by Lords of the Court. After 1789, the people elected justices
of the peace who adjudicated disputes quickly and inexpensively.
In the American colonies, volunteer justices kept
the peace before there were paid police. And every state had a Justice of the Peace
system at one time
or another, although specific duties varied from state to state. Since
they were rarely paid and were not trained or qualified, their duties
usually extended to minor matters such as vagrancy and misdemeanors.
Some of the founding fathers were JPs, the most famous being George
Washington! In some states a JP was also the coroner, empowered to
determine the cause of death. The results were as accurate as the JP's
medical training and investigative skills (usually nil!) and JPs no longer
have that authority today.
As time went on, in many states the JP system was
absorbed by the state’s “regular” judicial system (e.g. New York). Those that still use JPs continue the
original traditions. JPs are still not paid, usually appointed, and
perform only minor duties. They may issue warrants for search and arrest,
conduct preliminary hearings and administer oaths. They may have
jurisdiction in financial matters such as foreclosure of mortgages and
enforcement of liens on personal property. One of their most enjoyable
duties is performing the marriage ceremony.
The Justice of the Peace system is still alive and
well in other countries colonized by the English, notably Canada, Australia
and New Zealand.
Marriages. When a secular ceremony is
desired, a JP is frequently called upon to be the officiant.
The rules for obtaining and filing marriage licenses
Did you know that Connecticut was
one of the last states to require premarital syphilis and
rubella screening? The state finally heeded the counsel of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and repealed mandatory
blood tests effective October 1, 2003. Testifying in support of the bill
that passed, Deputy Commissioner Norma Gayle of the CT Dept of Public
Health said, "Today the requirement is costly, inconvenient and has
minimal impact towards prevention." She noted that the test is no longer
"an effective component of the Department's syphilis control
program." Besides Connecticut, only Indiana and Montana still required
rubella testing for women of child-bearing age previously.
Term of Office
The marriage license must be
Obtained in the town where the marriage will take place. The couple must both appear at the
Town Clerk's office to apply for the license.
After the ceremony, the officiant must return
the completed license to the town where the
marriage took place by the first week of the month following the
Each Connecticut locality has its own Registrar of
Vital Records. However, only in New Haven, Hartford, Middletown and
Bridgeport does a person hold that exact title. In the other 165 towns,
the Town Clerk is the ex-officio Registrar.
Depositions. A deposition is the taking of
testimony under oath for use in civil action or probate court proceedings. In
this context, a JP may also issue a subpoena to ensure that the witness appears
at the deposition.
Oaths and Affirmations. An oath is an oral
declaration of responsibility made by a person assuming a role. The person then
signs an affidavit, witnessed by the JP, attesting to the truth of the oath. (An
affirmation, using words other than "swear" and "so help you
God," may be administered instead.) Until the Connecticut Sheriff system
was abolished in the last election, oaths were taken by special deputies
appointed by a sheriff.
Acknowledgements. An acknowledgement is
a formal declaration by a person that a document s/he is signing is his or her
"free act and deed" and that s/he is who s/he says s/he is.
Acknowledgements are typically required in real estate transactions and primary
and nominating petitions.
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About New Hampshire JPs
Application fee: $75
Appointment by Governor and Executive Council is for five year term.
Powers of the Justice of the Peace include taking Acknowledgements,
Oaths and affirmations, Jurats, Depositions, Copy certifications, Witnessing
or attesting signatures, Protests, performing marriage and civil
Requirements for becoming a
Justice of the Peace
Justice of the Peace Manual (pdf format)
Non-residents entitled to perform marriages and civil unions
in their own states may apply to do so in New Hampshire.
More information on the
New Hampshire website
About South Carolina JPs
- JPs used to be appointed by the Governor with a lifetime
- Phased out. The last JP retired in 2008.
- The authority originally given to JPs is now vested in the
Notaries and the Municipal Judges.
About Vermont JPs
(Excerpted from the
Vermont Justice of the Peace Manual - pdf format)
How to become a justice of the peace in Vermont
- You must be a legal voter of the town and be elected at a general election or
appointed to fill a vacancy by the Governor. Although elected by a town, justices of the
peace are actually county officers.
- To run for the office of Justice of the Peace, a person must be nominated by party
caucus or, failing that, by the town committee. A person may also run as an independent.
- To be nominated by
party caucus, the party members in each town must meet at a duly warned
meeting, on or before the first Tuesday in September in even-numbered years.
"Duly warned" means posting a notice of the caucus in at least three public
places in town not less than seven days before the caucus. In towns having a
population of more than 1,000, notice shall also be published in a newspaper
not less than three days before the caucus. In towns without a formally
organized party, three members of the party who are voters may call the
caucus, elect a chair and secretary, and nominate its candidates.
- If a caucus is not held on or before the first Tuesday in September, the
town committee may nominate justices at a meeting called by the town chair
or by three members if the chair fails to do so. Five days written notice is
required to each committee member. Nomination must be by majority of those
present and voting, and if no candidate receives a majority after two
ballots, the candidate with the lowest number of votes in the second and
each succeeding ballot shall be eliminated until a candidate receives a
- For nominations by caucus and by committee, the committee chair and
secretary must file an official statement of nomination, signed by them,
with a copy of the notice of the meeting, with the town clerk, not later
than 5 p.m. on the third day following the September Primary Election.
Before filing, the officers should check with each nominee and confirm that
he or she consents to appear on the ballot and to serve if elected.
- Independent candidates for justice of the peace must collect 30
signatures or one percent of the legal voters of the municipality, whichever
is less. Petition and consent forms must be filed with the town clerk not
more than sixty days before the day of the general election and not later
than 5:00 p.m. on the third day after the September Primary Election.
- A person who is not nominated by party caucus or committee and failed to file
petitions by the appropriate deadline may run as a write-in candidate on the
general election ballot.
- Number of JPs
- Each town may elect up to a fixed number of JPs, from 5 to 15, according
to the town's population.
- If a JP moves to another Vermont town or county, a vacancy is not
created. "In most cases, however, a justice will resign when he or she
leaves town." (quote from VT JP Manual)
- Mandatory duties
- As members of the board of civil authority (BCA), JPs must serve as
- JPs must sit on the town board for abatement of taxes and serve in the
town's tax appeal process.
- Discretionary Duties
- JPs may solemnize marriages and certify civil unions but
not discriminate on the basis of any prohibited factor including race,
sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, age or disability.
- A JP may administer oaths and act as a notary public after filing with
the county clerk. . A justice of the peace is a notary
public ex officio and has all the
acknowledgment powers of a notary public.
- In extraordinary circumstances, a JP may be commissioned to serve as a
magistrate. (In 1974, the judicial authority of justices of the peace was
eliminated by the general assembly.)
Any adult can now apply to the Vermont
Secretary of State to be a "temporary officiant" at
a specific wedding or civil union. The fee to apply is $100.
Link to application (pdf).
- The term of a justice of the peace begins on February 1 of the year
following the General Election and runs for two years.
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