Justice courts (New York)

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Justice courts are courts in New York State that handle traffic tickets, criminal matters, small claims and local code violations such as zoning. Though justice courts constitutionally are part of the New York State Unified Court System, state law generally makes justice courts independent of New York's Office of Court Administration (OCA) and instead makes justice courts the responsibility of their sponsoring localities. Town justice courts are often called Town Court, and village justice courts are often called Village Court. City Courts in New York State handle mostly the same types of cases but are not justice courts.

The official title for judges in justice courts is "Justice", the same as in New York Supreme Court. However, in common usage, most people, including lawyers, call them "Judge". Justices in justice courts do not have to be lawyers and the vast majority are not. Many of these courts are in small towns and villages where none of the residents are lawyers. In the larger towns, the justices are almost always lawyers.

While justices and their court clerks receive training from OCA, there is tremendous variability in how cases are handled. This includes court procedures and substantive results. Some courts will dismiss a traffic ticket if the officer does not appear for a trial, while others will adjourn the matter to give the officer another chance. In some courts the police prosecute their own tickets, while in others an Assistant District Attorney from the county, or a town or village attorney, will prosecute the tickets. This may even vary by the type of officer, with State Troopers and Deputies prosecuting their tickets and a town attorney prosecuting tickets written by the town police.

Larger towns can have very busy caseloads, including several sessions a week with dozens of cases at each session, and people may have to wait hours before their cases are heard. In some small towns the caseload is extremely light, and a court might meet once a month and have only a few cases.

All criminal prosecutions that occur in towns and villages are commenced in a justice court. Misdemeanors are handled exclusively in the justice court, while felonies generally move up to County Court before the case moves forward.

Similar matters in some places outside New York are handled by a justice of the peace.

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