LTJ Explainer: What does the justice of the peace do?

Denton County Precinct 3 opened in Lewisville at the end of May. (Photo by Christina Ulsh)

Justice of the peace courts are prescribed by the Texas Constitution, Article 5, sections 18 and 19.

A justice of the peace court handles traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases for which the punishment is a fine only. A justice of the peace also can perform the functions of a magistrate — authorizing arrest warrants, and issuing emergency protection orders and peace bonds.

Justices of the peace hear civil lawsuits where the amount in dispute is $10,000 or less. They are the only court able to hear disputes under $200. Landlord and tenant cases are usually heard in these Courts.

In addition to their court duties, justices of the peace can officiate weddings, and are able to serve as notaries. In some counties, justices of the peace conduct inquests into the cause of deaths, but Denton County uses a medical examiner instead.

In prior years, the justice of the peace court handled many truancy cases, but those have declined dramatically due to a change in state law the last legislative session that made these cases harder to file.

Denton County JP/Constable Precinct 3 (Map by Denton County)

Denton County Precinct 3 handles tickets for Lewisville Lake offenses like violations of boating rules and fishing without a license.

Counties can have up to eight precincts, each with a Justice of the Peace and a constable. Some counties can have more than one justice per precinct. In Denton County, there are six precincts, each with a constable and justice of the peace.

Justices serve four-year terms of office, and are elected in partisan elections in November of even-numbered years. In Denton County, all six justice of the peace benches are up for election in 2018.