About Justices of the Peace
                                                 Justices of the Peace of the U.S.

 

 About Connecticut JPs   About Massachusetts JPs    About New Hampshire JPs   About South Carolina JPs     About Vermont JPs  

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 local 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. 

The 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.

About Connecticut JPs

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 are:

  • Blood Test Not Required

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.

  • 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 marriage.

    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 Massachusetts JPs

    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 union ceremonies

    • 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 term.
    • 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 majority.
        • 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)
    • Duties
      • Mandatory duties
        • As members of the board of civil authority (BCA), JPs must serve as election officials.
        • 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 may 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.)
    • Term of Office
      • The term of a justice of the peace begins on February 1 of the year following the General Election and runs for two years.
    • 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).

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