The Atlantic

When Your Judge Isn't A Lawyer

In some states, justices of the peace don’t need a law degree to sentence defendants to prison.
Source: Yuri Grigas / Reuters

Do you want to be a massage therapist in Helena, Montana? You’ll need 500 hours of study to receive your license first.

What about a barber at a shop in Billings? Get ready to spend 1,500 hours practicing your craft.

How about one of state’s justices of the peace, with the power to send defendants to prison for up to six months? You’re in luck—only a four-day certification course is necessary.

No law degree is required, either—only the approval of the voters in your county. While Montana’s rules are not the norm in America, they’re also not unheard of. Twenty-eight states require all judges presiding over misdemeanor cases to be lawyers, including large states like California and Florida. In 14 of the remaining 22 states, a defendant who receives a prison sentence from a non-lawyer judge has the

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min read
Living In California Is Living On The Edge
For residents, the recent earthquakes are a reminder that the state is always poised on the brink of disaster.
The Atlantic3 min readPolitics
Qatar Responds: Don’t Cancel the 2022 World Cup
The tournament’s host country pushes back on Franklin Foer’s proposal that FIFA change course and reallocate funds to women’s soccer.
The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Malta’s Fledgling Movement for Abortion Rights
The country is the only one in Europe that outright bans abortion, but public perception is slowly shifting.