Local Government Assistance

Justice of the Peace Manual February 2002 CHAPTER 2

Jurisdiction, Duties and Responsibilities
Justice of the Peace courts have jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters as well as a number of other duties that are not judicial in nature.

Criminal Jurisdiction
Justices of the peace have original jurisdiction in criminal cases that are punishable only by a fine or by a fine and a sanction not consisting of confinement or imprisonment. [57] Under the Alcoholic Beverage Code, a justice of the peace has jurisdiction in matters that do not include confinement as an authorized sanction. The justice court retains original jurisdiction over a case even if a conviction in the justice court results in the imposition of a penalty or sanction by an agency or entity other than the court, such as a denial, suspension or revocation of a privilege.

Venue in Criminal Cases
Venue is defined as the locality where a crime is committed or a cause of action occurs. The venue in criminal cases is generally the county in which the offense was committed. [58] Normally, a misdemeanor case to be tried in a justice court is tried in the precinct in which the offense was committed; in the precinct in which the defendant or any of the defendants reside; or with the written consent of the state and each defendant or the defendant's attorney, in any other precinct within the county. In any misdemeanor case in which the offense was committed in a precinct where there is no qualified justice court, the trial is held in the

next adjacent precinct in the same county that has a duly qualified justice court or in the precinct in which the defendant may reside. In any misdemeanor case in which each justice of the peace in the precinct where the offense was committed is disqualified for any reason, the case may be tried in the next adjoining precinct in the same county having a duly qualified justice of the peace. [59] A justice, after receiving a complaint that is written, sworn to and signed, files the complaint, issues an arrest warrant and enters the necessary information into a docket book. When the defendant is brought before the justice, the justice tells the defendant the charge, warns the defendant of his or her rights and, if necessary sets bond. [60] If required by the circumstances of the case, the justice may issue subpoenas for witnesses. [61] The defendant can have a trial by jury or can waive this right. [62] Upon receiving or delivering the verdict, the justice renders judgment and sentence and makes the entries on the docket. [63] If acquitted, the defendant is immediately discharged. [64] If the defendant is found guilty, the justice determines how the judgment and sentence will be satisfied. [65]

Justices of the Peace as Magistrates
The magistrate's duty is to preserve the peace within his jurisdiction by all lawful means. The justice may issue whatever summons or writ necessary to order an offender to appear in court or to help prevent and suppress crime. [66] The office's magisterial responsibilities falls into two categories: where something illegal has already occurred; and where something illegal has not yet occurred but is likely to occur (commonly referred to as peace bond proceedings). Act has Already Occurred When an act has already occurred, a justice of the peace may verbally instruct a peace officer to arrest that person or issue an arrest warrant. If a felony or breach of the peace is committed in the presence of a justice, that justice may verbally order a peace officer to arrest the

offender. [67] A felony is an offense that is punishable by death or confinement in a penitentiary. [68] Justices may issue an arrest warrant: if a criminal offense is committed within their view and they have jurisdiction; or when a proper complaint is received. [69] Individual justices, upon receiving a complaint that someone within their jurisdiction is a fugitive from justice from another state, must issue an arrest warrant. [70] Justices also have responsibilities for: warning the accused; setting bail; appointing counsel if designated by the county or district judge to do so; and conducting examining trials to inquire into the accusations. [71] Justices also have the authority to issue search warrants. [72] Act has Not Occurred When an act has not occurred, a justice also must issue an arrest warrant when informed under oath that an offense is about to be committed against a person or property, or that someone has threatened to commit such an offense. [73] After being arrested, the accused may make what is known as an appearance bond. This bond specifies when the accused will appear and assures the court that the accused will not commit the offense that led to the arrest. [74] The justice conducts a hearing to determine if the oath has merit. A justice who believes the oath does have merit will make the accused enter into a peace bond. A peace bond provides that the accused will not commit the offense and will act peacefully toward the person named in the bond. [75]

Inquests and Hearings
Justices of the peace are also responsible for holding inquests and conducting hearings. [76] Dead Body Inquests An inquest concerning a dead body is an

investigation to determine whether someone is responsible for the death and if a crime has been committed. [77] An inquest must be held in certain cases, such as when a person dies in prison or in jail, or when a dead body is found and the circumstances are unknown. [78] An individual who is charged with having caused the death and who has been arrested has the right, as does that individual's attorney, to be present at the inquest, to examine the witnesses and introduce evidence. Otherwise, the justice may hold the inquest in private. [79] The justice has broad powers in conducting the inquest and may subpoena and attach witnesses. [80] The justice may have a body disinterred or order an autopsy. [81] The testimony of witnesses must be sworn to and put in writing. [82] A justice may issue an arrest warrant for a person suspected of causing the death if the justice: knows the person caused the death; has received an affidavit stating the person caused the death; or has received evidence at the inquest showing probable cause to believe the person caused the death. [83] Fire Inquests A fire inquest is the result of an affidavit made before a justice that shows there are grounds to believe a building has been unlawfully set on fire or that an attempt was made to set the building on fire. [84] Proceedings for fire inquests are the same as proceedings for inquests for dead bodies. Likewise, the justice's powers are the same.

Witnesses' testimonies concerning fires must be in writing, signed and sworn to as in inquests for dead bodies. [86] If the jury finds the fire was set unlawfully or an attempt was made to set the fire unlawfully, the witnesses are held over to testify to the next grand jury. [87] If necessary, the justice issues an arrest warrant. [88] Unsafe Driver Inquests Justices of the peace also may conduct hearings concerning unsafe drivers to determine: whether a driver's license shall be suspended or revoked; and

the length of time of the suspension (generally, the length of suspension does not exceed one year). [89] The justice reports the findings from the hearing to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Civil Jurisdiction
A justice of the peace has exclusive jurisdiction over civil cases in which the amount in controversy is $200 or less. [90] The office has concurrent jurisdiction with both the county and district courts in civil matters in which exclusive jurisdiction is not in the district or county court and the amount in controversy is $5,000 or less. A justice of the peace also has jurisdiction over: forcible entry and detainer actions; and foreclosure of mortgages and liens on personal property in which the amount in controversy is within the justice court's jurisdiction. As a general rule, a suit is commenced in the county and precinct where one or more of the defendants live. The plaintiff starts the suit by filing a petition stating the facts. The justice then enters certain information in a docket book and issues a citation for the defendant. If a remedy cannot be reached beforehand, the justice proceeds with a trial with or without a jury. Either party may request a jury trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the justice announces the verdict in open court and records judgment in the docket.

Dismissal of Cases
Justices of the peace are authorized to dismiss cases only in certain circumstances. In civil proceedings, justices may dismiss cases only in those instances in which the statutes specifically authorize them to do so. An example is when a plaintiff fails to appear for trial and the defendant makes a motion for dismissal. [91] In criminal proceedings, justices may dismiss cases only when specifically authorized to do so by statute or when directed to do so by the prosecution (for example, the county or district attorney). Some examples of the reasons for dismissing criminal cases include a defendant's: showing proof of a hunting license;

showing proof of motor vehicle registration; showing proof of a valid driver's license; showing proof of a vehicle inspection certificate; and showing proof of insurance. [92] In certain cases, a cause may be dismissed based on evidence that the defendant has complied with requirements imposed by the justice. [93] The actual statutes should be studied for more specific information on dismissing cases, such as when dismissal is mandatory and when it is discretionary. All dismissals should be noted in the applicable docket book along with the reason(s) for dismissal. [94]

Other Duties of Non-Judicial Nature
Justices of the peace also have responsibility over issuing writs of attachment, garnishment and sequestration (a writ authorizing seizure of property) within the justice's geographic area of jurisdiction. Justices of the peace also preside over suits involving the enforcement of a deed restriction for a residential subdivision that does not concern structural changes to a dwelling.

Marriage Ceremonies
Justices of the peace may also perform marriage ceremonies. They must receive a valid marriage license. Licenses are obtained by the couple from the county clerk and are valid for 30 days. [95] The county clerk must indicate on the license the time it was issued. The marriage ceremony cannot take place within 72 hours of when the license was issued unless: an applicant is a member of the armed forces of the United States and is on active duty; or an applicant obtains a waiver from a judge of a district court or a statutory county court with jurisdiction in family law cases and proceedings, a justice of the Supreme Court, or a judge of the court of criminal appeals or a court of appeals. [96] With the exceptions above, a marriage may be voided and is subject to annulment if the ceremony takes place during 72 hours immediately following the issuance of the marriage license. A suit may not be brought under this section more than 30 days after the date of the marriage. [97] A justice who conducts a ceremony after a license has expired is guilty

of a misdemeanor and may be fined $200 to $500 if convicted. [98] Within 30 days after the ceremony, the justice must enter the following information on the license, sign it and return it to the county clerk who issued it: the date and county in which it was performed; and his or her name as the person performing the ceremony. [99] Failing to provide this information is also a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 to $500 fine if convicted. A justice is entitled to personally retain fees received for conducting marriage ceremonies. [100]

Ex Officio Notaries Public
Justices of the peace also serve as ex officio notaries public of their counties. [101] Although an appointed notary public is required to take an oath of office and provide a bond, a justice serves as ex officio notary public without having to do so. [102] Basically, a notary public is someone who has the authority to: acknowledge or establish the authenticity of written instruments; protest instruments permitted by law to be protested; administer oaths; take depositions; and certify copies of documents that are not recorded in public records. [103]

Registrar of Vital Statistics
A justice of the peace as a local registrar of vital statistics completes birth and death certificates, registers and records them and sends them to the State Bureau of Vital Statistics. [104] A local registrar who issues certified copies of birth or death certificates charges the same fee as charged by the Bureau of Vital Statistics. [105] The duty of registering births and deaths may be transferred to the county clerk if there is a written agreement between a justice (acting as a local registrar) and a county clerk, and if the commissioners court ratifies the agreement. A justice of the peace who is a local registrar is also responsible for reporting to the office of the Comptroller of Public Accounts about fees

for issuing certified copies of birth certificates. [106]


[57] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 4.11. [58] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 13.18. [59] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 4.12. [60] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 15.17. [61] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 24.01. [62] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 45.027. [63] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 45.036. [64] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 37.12. [65] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 45.041. [66] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 2.10. [67] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 14.02. [68] V.T.C.A., Penal Code, §1.07. [69] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 45.103; Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 45.014. [70] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 51.03. [71] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. arts. 15.17; Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 16.01. [72] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 18.01. [73] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 7.01. [74] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 7.02. [75] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 7.03. [76] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 49.04; Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 49.14. [77] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 49.01. [78] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 49.04. [79] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 49.14. [80] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 49.14. [81] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. arts. 49.09, 49.10. [82] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 49.14. [83] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 49.19. [84] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 50.01. [85] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 50.02. [86] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 50.06. [87] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 50.04. [88] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 50.05. [89] V.T.C.A., Transportation Code, §§521.293 and 521.294. [90] V.T.C.A., Government Code §27.031; Vernon's Ann. Tex. Const. Art. 5, §19. [91] Rules of Civil Procedure 45-47 and 534; Rules of Civil Procedure 524, 534; Rules of Civil Procedure 544; Rules of Civil Procedure 556, 557, 558; Rules of Civil Procedure 543. [92] V.T.C.A., Parks & Wildlife Code, §42.024; V.T.C.A., Transportation Code,§502.407; V.T.C.A., Transportation Code, §521.026; V.T.C.A., Transportation Code, §545.413; V.T.C.A., Transportation Code, §548.605; V.T.C.A., Transportation Code, §601.193. [93] Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. arts. 45.051, 45.052, 45.053. [94] Rules of Civil Procedure 524, 556, 557, Vernon's Ann. C.C.P. art. 45.017. [95] V.T.C.A., Family Code, §2.202; V.T.C.A., Family Code, §2.203; V.T.C.A., Family Code, §2.201. [96] V.T.C.A., Family Code, §2.009; V.T.C.A., Family Code, §2.204. [97] V.T.C.A., Family Code, §2.204. [98] V.T.C.A., Family Code, §2.206.

[99] V.T.C.A., Family Code, §2.206. [100] V.T.C.A., Local Government Code, §154.005. [101] V.T.C.A., Government Code, §27.002. [102] AG Opinion O-5606, 1943. [103] V.T.C.A., Government Code, §406.016. [104] V.T.C.A., Health and Safety Code,§§191.022, 191.029. [105] V.T.C.A., Health and Safety Code, §191.0045. [106] V.T.C.A., Health and Safety Code, §191.022. Carole Keeton Strayhorn Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Window on State Government Contact Us Privacy and Security Policy