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In the future, all those interested in placing their name on the ballot to become a justice of the peace will have to pass an intensive background check and comply with rigorous educational requirements.
As of April 1, all justices of the peace must be in compliance with educational requirements related to magistrate duties.
Magistrates currently holding office must complete an eight-hour course on magistration and a DPS course on accessing criminal history records by December 1.
“With the DPS course we have to pass a test,” Frio County JP Pct. 3 Susan Belding said earlier this week. “Some people think we just go up to the jail and set bonds, but we have to know the laws and the state is cracking down.”
Additionally, JPs will have to complete continuing education hours on a magistrate’s duties every two years.Those who are newly elected to office have 90 days to comply with the educational training requirement.
The new bill was prompted after the 2017 death of Trooper Damon Allen, who was killed in the line of duty. During the second special session in the 2021 Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 6 which was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on September 13, 2021.
“This bill significantly changes the process for setting bail by giving magistrates better information about a defendant, including criminal history and any required bond conditions, prohibiting release of a defendant on a personal bond in certain situations, and increasing educational requirements for magistrates,” the bill reads.
After someone is accused of a crime and arrested, the magistrate will set bail by deciding what restrictions are needed to release the person before the criminal case is resolved. The bail release system has two key goals; protecting public safety and ensuring defendants come back for their court dates.
Magistrates must look at the criminal history of the defendant, including any information regarding previous misdemeanor or felony convictions; pending charges; previous sentences imposing a term of confinement; previous convictions or pending charges for any offenses involving violence; and previous failures of the defendant to appear in court following release on bail.
Belding said magistrates also factor in the charge, probable cause, and consider whether the defendant is able to pay.
“It is also important to consider the safety of the public, the residents in our county, along with the safety of our law enforcement,” the justice of the peace said.
In addition to Senate Bill 6, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is currently completing a phased implementation of criminal background checks for users who access TxEVER.
Funeral homes and justices of the peace who access TxEVER for death certificates to be certified must have complete fingerprint-based background, DPS and FBI checks on file with DSHS by April 30.