Justice of the Peace Law and Legal Definition
A Justice of the Peace is a judge who handles minor legal matters such as misdemeanors, small claims actions and traffic matters in Justice of the Peace or Justice Courts. Such courts were popular in earlier history, but now exist primarily in rural areas for the convenience of people who must travel long distances to other courts.
The following is an example of a state statute defining the jurisdiction of a Justice of the Peace court:
"The Justice of the Peace Courts has jurisdiction over civil cases involving debt, trespass and replevin in which the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000. The Justice of the Peace Court has jurisdiction over all landlord/tenant summary possession proceedings. Justice of the Peace Courts are authorized to hear certain misdemeanors and most motor vehicle cases (excluding felonies) and may act as Committing magistrates for all crimes. Appeals may be taken de novo to Court of Common Pleas in criminal and civil cases, except landlord/tenant possession cases. Those cases may be appealed to a three judge panel of Justices of the Peace.
The Justice of the Peace Courts are entry-level courts through which pass the great majority of all criminal cases. The criminal jurisdiction of the Justice of the Peace Courts include, but is not limited to:
- Criminal misdemeanor cases as listed in 11 Del.C. §2702, and all criminal violations.
- Most Title 21 offenses which do not involve physical injury or death.
- Violations of the County Code and other ordinances of municipalities.
- Truancy cases.
- Enumerated Fish and Wildlife violations.
- Enumerated Alcoholic beverage violations.
- Miscellaneous violations initiated by other state agencies.
- Limited jurisdiction for juvenile offenses.
The Courts of the Justices of the Peace have civil jurisdiction over:
- Contractual disputes where the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000.
- Replevin actions (actions brought to recover possession of personal property unlawfully taken) where the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000.
- Negligence cases (not involving physical injury) where the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000.
- Landlord/Tenant cases, including summary proceedings for possession for which jury trials are authorized, and appeals from landlord/tenant cases to special courts consisting of a three judge panel.
The Courts of the Justices of the Peace also have jurisdiction to:
- Issue summonses and warrants for all criminal offenses based upon findings of probable cause.
- Issue search warrants for all criminal offenses based upon findings of probable cause.
- Conduct initial appearances to set bond for all criminal offenses and conduct bond review hearings when requested.
- Issue and execute capiases. (A capias is a bench or arrest warrant issued by a judge for a defendant who has failed to appear for arraignment, trial, or sentencing or who has failed to pay a court-ordered fine.) "