Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1952 No. 387 - August 27, 1952
AGO Opinion Header Image
Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

MOTOR VEHICLE TRAFFIC LAWS OR ORDINANCES ‑- TRAFFIC CITATIONS ‑- DISPOSAL BY JUSTICE OF THE PEACE OR POLICE JUDGE

A justice of the peace or police judge does not have authority to dismiss or dispose of a traffic citation issued by a traffic officer to an alleged violator of the motor vehicle laws of the state or traffic ordinance of any city or town prior to its deposit in his court, but upon deposit thereof and filing of a complaint in support of said citation, all authority concerning the charge vests in him.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                 August 27, 1952

Honorable James A. Pryde
Chief
Washington State Patrol
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 387

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your request of July 25, 1952, for an opinion of this office on the following question:

            "Does a Justice of the Peace or Police Judge have the authority to dismiss a traffic citation which is issued by a traffic officer to an alleged violator of any provision of the motor vehicle laws of this state or of any traffic ordinance of any city or town, before the original or a copy of such traffic citation has been deposited with the court?"

            Our conclusions may be stated as follows:

            A justice of the peace or police judge does not have authority to dismiss or dispose of a traffic citation issued by a traffic officer to an alleged violator of the motor vehicle laws of the state or traffic ordinance of any city or town prior to its deposit in his court, but upon deposit thereof and filing of a complaint in support of said citation all authority concerning the charge vests in him.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Inasmuch as your request was accompanied by no statement of facts we must presume that the question is not hypothetical and that in your experience you have discovered that justices of the peace and police judges dismiss charges brought by traffic citations prior to their being deposited with the court.  Your question has never been presented to this office before and there are no opinions extant on the subject.  RCW 10.16.010 provides:

            "Upon complaint being made to any justice of the peace, or judge of the superior court, that a criminal offense has been committed, he shall examine on oath the complainant, and any witness provided by him, and shall reduce the complaint to writing, and shall cause the same to be subscribed by the complainant."

            Police judges, as provided for cities and towns of the various classes, have full power to hear and determine all cases, civil and criminal, arising under city ordinances, but the charges in criminal matters are heard on complaints in writing as in justice courts.

            In relation to traffic law violations generally, however, it has long been the practice for arresting officers to issue what are commonly called "traffic tickets" or traffic citations.  Such citations or notices to appear are recognized by the law, and in that part of chapter 196, Laws of 1949, known as the non-fix law, the legislature, in amending earlier acts, has required that every such notice shall be deposited with the appropriate court.  RCW 46.64.010, derived from § 16, chapter 196, Laws of 1949, supra, amending section 145, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 (Rem. Rev. Stat. § 6360-145) provides in part as follows:

            "Upon the deposit of the original or a copy of such traffic citation with a court having competent jurisdiction over the alleged offense or with its traffic violations bureau as aforesaid, said original or copy of such traffic citation may be disposed of only by trial in said court or other official action by a judge of said court, including forfeiture of the bail or by the deposit of sufficient bail with or payment of a fine to said traffic violations bureau by the person to whom such traffic citation has been issued by the traffic enforcement officer.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "It is unlawful and official misconduct for any traffic enforcement officer or other officer or public employee to dispose of a traffic citation or copies thereof or of the record of the issuance of the same in a manner other than as required herein."

            Furthermore, when said citation, duly supported by the complaint in writing, has been deposited with him, the justice of the peace or police judge has exclusive jurisdiction to dispose of the matter in accordance with his jurisdictional discretion.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

PHILIP W. RICHARDSON
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo