But without counsel to advise them of this procedure, poor defendants simply do not know how to get a higher court to take a second look. It made sense where communities were scattered and communication and centralized organization difficult. When asked by the non-lawyer judge if he did it, the defendant told the court that he stole the wood to keep his family warm. It still exists today in courts that may have limited subject-matter jurisdiction and non-lawyer judges, much like Justice of the Peace Courts. That is, the defendant can potentially be sent to jail, but he will remain at liberty after he is sentenced so long as he completes all duties and pays all fees imposed by the court. (See for example the 6AC Utah report). Additionally, non-lawyer judges may, in violation of the Constitution, tell a poor person that she can only get a lawyer if she pays the government for part or all of the cost of that representation. Magistrate Courts operate today in Georgia, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Chances are high that the defendant will forgo an attorney rather than incur debt she cannot afford to pay. That is why courts are constitutionally required to make individualized inquiries to determine whether a defendant is intelligently waiving his right to counsel. non-lawyer judges A curated collection of links The Record What are records? Let’s say for example that the defendant is entitled to a jury trial, as he is in some of these courts and cases. Your email address will not be published. Selecting a jury involves complicated legal issues about: what the lawyers can ask the potential jurors when selecting them; the reasons a potential juror can or must be struck from the jury; the evidence that can be presented to the jury; and the law the jury must follow to reach a verdict. And, even in those jurisdictions that allow for a do-over before a lawyer-judge on appeal, a defendant must assert her desire to do so. So an uncounselled defendant faces numerous hurdles that become increasingly difficult to surmount in front of a non-lawyer judge. If a defendant is in jail waiting to go to court, prosecutors may offer the defendant a chance to get out of jail for time served if the accused simply pleads guilty. Even judges who are lawyers often struggle to get the right answers to these questions. Since 2014, The Marshall Project has been curating some of the best criminal justice reporting from around the web. The judges … But the evolution was gradual, and Justice of the Peace and similar judicial offices still held local sway well into the twentieth century. Today, most states’ trial courts of general jurisdiction have only one or two levels – e.g., Circuit Court and District Court – and are administered from the state capitol. They may be called Justice of the Peace Courts or simply Justice Courts. Thirty-one states have some courts where judges do not have to be a lawyer.1 In nine of these states that allow non-lawyer judges, along with the 19 states and the District of Columbia that require all judges to be a lawyer, the non-lawyer judges are banned from taking a defendant’s liberty in a criminal proceeding.2. But unlike Justice of the Peace Courts, Magistrate Courts have county-wide jurisdiction. The U.S. Supreme Court may or may not take up the Montana writ. If determined to have broken his probation, the defendant’s liberty can be revoked and he will be sent to jail. Venturing down to the Missoula Justice Court to see if any court was still in session, I found myself in the court of a non-lawyer judge. After all, if the defendant is, in fact, not capable of making an intelligent choice with respect to his constitutional rights, how then could he intelligently respond to a judge’s question? The judge never asked if the defendant wanted counsel nor informed him of possible collateral consequences to pleading guilty. But most have jurisdiction over a limited group of municipalities within each county, and their subject-matter jurisdiction is similar to that of Justice of the Peace courts. Despite this, non-lawyer judges often require uncounselled defendants to meet with a prosecutor to try to settle the case before they will appoint a lawyer to represent an indigent person. Their procedures are complex and well defined; their judges must be licensed attorneys, and often must have a number of years of legal practice. Thirty-one states have some courts where judges do not have to be a lawyer. Even so, in practically every state in which they exist, lay judges are required to attend training classes, and in many states to take continuing education classes. Some local courts are called “Mayor’s Courts” but that doesn’t mean the mayor is automatically the judge … Following their arrest, most people are brought to a police station or detention center for processing, and then the defendant is supposed to be brought before a judicial officer to determine whether or not he should be released pending further court action. In Pennsylvania, Magisterial District Courts share terminology with “magistrate” and “district” courts, and they also share characteristics of each. Justices of the Peace were originally English quasi-judicial officers who volunteered to preserve the “king’s peace” in their local county or borough. Twenty-eight states require all judges presiding over misdemeanor cases to be lawyers, including large states like California and Florida. Even in states where Justice of the Peace courts no longer exist, the office may still exist in order to officiate at weddings and perfom other administrative duties such as administration of oaths and taking of depositions. Note that in New York, Town Courts and Village Courts may also be called Justice Courts, but they are actually municipal courts with jurisdiction limited to their town or village; they were covered by a post here in August, 2010. The remaining 22 states, primarily for reasons of cost efficiency or to facilitate justice in more rural jurisdictions, have non-lawyer judges preside over misdemeanors or ordinances that carry jail time as a possible punishment. For the first 500 years of recorded Roman law, there were no judges for whom judging was in any sense a profession. But as Senator Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, has noted, and the 6AC has reported, the likelihood of an indigent defendant getting an attorney in a misdemeanor proceeding is severely limited. In 16 of these states — Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia — at least some of the courts presided over by non-lawyer judges that hear jailable offenses are also allowed to be courts that are not courts of record. In Georgia, most municipal judges must be lawyers, but non-lawyer judges who were on the bench as of June 30, 2011 may continue as long as they attend the same training classes as all other municipal judges. Though it may seem surprising that judges in all of America’s courts do not necessarily need to be lawyers, the practice is fairly common. Locating Name Change Records. As I wrote this piece, I thought back to a story that highlights the dangers of having non-lawyer judges preside over jailable misdemeanors.