Should Judges Be Lawyers?
Mississippi has an interesting judicial institution known as a justice court:
The mission of the Justice Court Clerk's office is to effectively serve the public by processing civil actions not to exceed $2,500.00 and misdemeanor criminal charges in accordance with section 9-11-11 of the Mississippi Code.
An individual appearing before a justice court may file either a criminal charge or a civil suit. A plaintiff who seeks only money can start what amounts to a small claims action. If the complaint "involves the violation of a criminal statute," the complaining party can prepare "an affidavit charging criminal activity as defined by Mississippi law."
Where probable cause is shown in the affidavit to believe that the person charged committed the crime, the accused will be arrested, tried, and if found guilty, punished as prescribed by law. The punishment may include fines and/or confinement. Some form of restitution to the victim may or may not be forthcoming if the accused is found guilty.
These are serious consequences, and those unfortunate persons who find themselves charged in a Mississippi justice court must be shocked to learn that the only qualification to be a judge in a justice court is a high school diploma. A task force has suggested "reforms" that fail to address the kind of legal training required to assure that criminal defendants receive a fair trial. The task force recommends that future justice court judges have:
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