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 Atlantic4 min read
The Necessity of Toni Morrison
One of my white teachers in high school insisted that Toni Morrison would be confusing to me as a reader. So I approached the author’s work with that notion in mind, and quickly realized how wrong my teacher’s assessment was. Morrison’s prose is lush
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
Chris Christie’s Indictment of the President He Supports
He declared his intention to vote Trump in 2020—even though he thinks Trump surrounded himself with awful people.
The Atlantic2 min readSociety
What the U.S. Medical System Can Learn From Estonia
Americans waste time and money filling out paperwork and repeating tests in the doctor’s office. A small Baltic nation has found a better way.