Many incorporated cities or towns have a municipal court, also known as a city court or a magistrate court. Municipal courts have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanor crimes and petty offenses committed in their city or town. They share jurisdiction with justice courts over violations of state law committed within their city or town limits.
Municipal court judges (city or town magistrates) hear misdemeanor criminal traffic cases such as driving under the influence of alcohol, hit-and-run, and reckless driving where no serious injuries occur. They hear civil traffic cases, violations of city ordinances and codes, and issue Orders of Protection and injunctions prohibiting harassment. They can also issue search warrants. They do not hear civil lawsuits between citizens.
City charters or ordinances establish the qualifications of these judges. Some cities do not require municipal court judges to be attorneys. City or town councils appoint their judges, except in Yuma, where municipal court judges are elected. Judges serve terms set by the city or town council; their terms must be at least two years.
Judges have court clerks who provide clerical assistance and schedule cases. In larger cities, the courts may also have court administrators.
Each county’s board of supervisors divides the county into precincts in which each of that county’s justices of the peace have authority to hear and decide cases. Generally, precincts are larger than city or town limits and typically incorporate an entire city or town as well as pieces of other communities and unincorporated areas of the county. Although precinct boundaries can be changed, precincts cannot be abolished until the four-year term of the current justice of the peace expires.
Justice courts hear traffic cases and certain criminal and civil cases, including domestic violence and harassment cases. They can issue search warrants. Their civil jurisdiction is limited to cases involving claims of $10,000 or less. Justice courts share jurisdiction with the superior court in cases of landlord/tenant disputes where damages are between $5,000 and $10,000. They can hear matters regarding possession of, but not title to, real property. Disputes involving amounts greater than $10,000 must be filed in the superior court.
When conducting preliminary hearings on felonies, justice court judges may require defendants to answer criminal charges in superior court. They also may dismiss charges if there is no probable cause to believe the defendant is guilty.
Justice courts have criminal jurisdiction over:
• Petty offenses and misdemeanors.
• Assault or battery — less serious offenses not committed on a public officer while performing his or her duties.
• Breaches of peace and committing a willful injury to property.
• Misdemeanors and criminal offenses punishable by fines not more than $2,500, imprisonment in county jail not to exceed six months, or both fine and imprisonment.
• Felonies for the purpose of issuing warrants and conducting preliminary hearings.
Most justice of the peace precincts have an elected constable. The constable’s duties are to execute, serve, and return all processes and legal documents as directed by the court. Some statutes relating to sheriffs also govern the powers, duties, and liabilities of constables.
The justice of the peace usually has one or more court clerks to provide clerical assistance and maintain court records. Justice courts in some busy urban precincts may have a court administrator.
Arizona Justice of the Peace Qualifications
A justice of the peace:
• Is elected to a four-year term;
• Must be at least 18 years old;
• Must be an Arizona resident;
• Must be a qualified voter in the precinct in which duties of office will be performed;
• Must read and write English, and
• Need not be an attorney.