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Become a Justice of the Peace: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a justice of the peace. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the judiciary system.

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Do I Want to Be a Justice of the Peace?

Justices of the peace (JPs) are appointed by the governor and elected to office or commissioned by a major political party. The job of a JP can vary greatly between states. Not every state has the provisions for a justice of the peace, and, in many instances, the duties of a JP have been redistributed to other state officials.

The duty often associated with a JP is to perform marriage ceremonies. Depending on the state, JPs may also administer oaths and take affidavits and acknowledgments. They may also issue subpoenas in relation to depositions, command witnesses to appear before police commissioner boards, issue tax warrants or sit on tax abatement cases. Some states authorize JPs to call meetings of corporations, municipalities, utilities or property lying in common. JPs sometimes serve as election officials or perform the same duties as notaries public. In rare instances, JPs can act as magistrates or coroners. Jobs are often part-time, and additional employment might be necessary. Work is often on-call and may occur during nights and weekends.

Job Requirements

Although no formal education is required, training in occupations related to the law might be helpful. Licensing takes place after appointment or nomination. The table below summarizes some common requirements to become a JP:

Common Requirements
Degree Level No degree required, law-related training could be beneficial**
Degree Field Criminal justice, political science, legal studies, American history**
Licensure and/or Certification Upon successful election, nomination or appointment, a JP is commissioned (licensed) by the appropriate authority*
Experience No experience required*, previous legal experience or holding a state office could assist in obtaining appointment, election or nomination**
Additional Requirements Clean criminal record, no history of revoked professional license(s), upstanding citizen of good character, ability to impartially uphold laws and perform duties, registered voter (required in some states)*

Sources: *State government websites of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 1: Obtain a Legal Education

Unlike other local and state judges, justices of the peace aren't required to hold a law degree, although such training can be beneficial. There are, in fact, no formal education requirements for this career; however, individuals with legal expertise could have an easier time seeking appointment, election or nomination. Aspiring JPs may consider undergraduate programs in legal areas, such as criminal justice, political science or legal studies.

Step 2: Seek Nomination, Appointment or Election

Some states, such as Connecticut, allocate JP positions based on the number of political party members holding state offices. These states require a candidate to be nominated by the major political party, and the party files the nominee's certificate of appointment with the town clerk. The rest of the vacancies are filled by considering applications filed by individuals not affiliated with a major political party and are chosen by lottery if there are more applications than openings.

In other states, such as Massachusetts, the governor appoints a JP. A person seeking to become a JP must submit an application, which is typically available from the governor's office or the secretary of state's office. The application requests general information about the applicant and his or her criminal history. The application is sworn to under penalty of perjury. Prominent individuals within the community may have to sign the application and submit letter(s) of recommendation, depending on the jurisdiction.

If the JP is elected, which is the case in Vermont, the candidate must file a petition containing a required number of signatures with the town clerk to be placed on the ballot. Once candidates are listed on the ballot, they can begin conducting their election campaigns.

Step 3: File Oath of Office

In many cases, the appointee or justice of the peace-elect must appear at an appointed place and time and take the oath of office. In other cases, an appointee takes and files the oath of office at a designated government office within a specific number of days after being elected or appointed. After the oath of office is on file, the JP may commence the duties of his or her office.

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