What does the Justice of the Peace Do?
The first thing to know is that Carson City is a consolidated municipality. This means that we do not have Municipal courts, so the Justice of the Peace oversees cases that would be before the municipal court and the justice court. In its capacity as the municipal court, it oversees cases that are under the Carson City Municipal Code. Then, the Justice Court oversees criminal and civil cases under state law.
Jurisdiction Over Criminal Cases
The Justice of the Peace conducts initial appearances in all criminal cases. Due to this, more than 80% of the workload of the justice courts is criminal in nature. This is why having a background in criminal law is useful to the position. The Justice of the Peace has the authority, in all criminal cases, to set bail and bail conditions. This means that they determine who is released before trial back into the community and what conditions the defendant must follow while released. They also issue warrants to arrest those who have failed to appear in court, comply with a sentence, or any other conditions set by the court. In fact, the Justice/Municipal Judge is on call for the consideration and authorization of search warrants requested by law enforcement at all hours of the day or night, while conducting their other duties.
In gross misdemeanor and felony cases, like robbery, burglary, illegal possession of most drugs, sexual assault, and murder, the Justice Court conducts an initial hearing where bail is considered and a court date is scheduled for a preliminary hearing. Preliminary hearings determine whether there is enough evidence to believe the defendant committed the crime charged. During these hearings, the Justice of the Peace must determine what evidence is admissible and inadmissible. Ultimately, these decisions can have an impact on whether the case goes forward to trial. These must occur within 15 days, unless the defendant agrees to an extension. If the Court finds there is sufficient evidence, the case proceeds to District Court for a jury trial. For felony and gross misdemeanor cases, this is the end of the Justice of the Peace’s involvement.
In misdemeanor cases, the Justice of the Peace conducts the initial appearance, these cases include traffic citations, DUI, domestic battery, and petty larceny cases. Then, the Justice of the Peace conducts a trial and makes decisions about whether the case is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and if so, imposes a sentence. At these trials, the Justice of the Peace determines who is guilty and innocent and decides what evidence is allowed in the trial. In misdemeanor cases, the Justice of the Peace cannot impose a sentence greater than 180 days and/or a $1,000 fine for each charge. However, these sentences can potentially be lengthy when added together.
The Justice of the Peace oversees a Misdemeanor Treatment Court and a Mental Health Court. These Specialty Court programs are in place to address chronic substance abuse problems in young adults and treatable mental illness in our adult cases. As the name indicates, the Misdemeanor Treatment Court is only available for offenders whose cases are handled at the misdemeanor level. The goal of this specialty court is to help address substance abuse issues, to get community members out of the cycle of addiction, and the court system. The Mental Health Court is available to address mental health problems that contribute to criminal behavior at either the misdemeanor or felony level. This court seeks to ensure treatment of the ongoing mental health issues so that the criminal behavior stops. The Justice of the Peace oversees these courts and their participants.
Jurisdiction Over Civil Cases
The Justice Court oversees small claim cases up to $10,000 and other civil cases up to $15,000. This means they determine what amount of damages has occurred, if any. The Court also hears all landlord/tenant disputes. The Justice of the Peace also issues temporary protective orders, stalking orders and other civil orders. Temporary protective orders and stalking orders are meant to protect members of the community from potentially dangerous people in their lives. The Court holds hearings to determine whether to issue these orders when the requests are contested.
Finally, the Justice of the Peace is authorized by statute to conduct weddings, which is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the job. The Justice of the Peace does not handle divorces, child custody, or child support. All they have to do is marry people, after that, they are out of the picture. Which is one of the reasons this is a low-stress part of the position.