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AGO 1951 No. 459 - March 01, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTY CORONERS, COUNTY SHERIFFS AND CITY POLICE ‑- JURISDICTION OF, OVER FELONIES AND DEAD BODIES.

1. The city police of a second class city have the power to arrest and hold felons for crimes occurring within a city.

2. The county coroner has sole jurisdiction over dead bodies, where there are reasonable grounds to believe that death has been caused by unlawful means at the hands of another; has the power to summon a coroner's jury and to issue warrants for the arrest of persons determined by said jury to be responsible for said death.

3. Where reasonable grounds exist to believe a person has feloniously caused the death of another the sheriff has the power to arrest and hold said person pursuant to his statutory duties as conservator of the peace of the county.

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                                                                   March 1, 1951

Honorable Albert N. Bradford
Prosecuting Attorney
Walla Walla County
Denny Building
Walla Walla, Washington                                                                                         Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 459

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of January 25, 1951, you asked the following questions:

            1. What is the jurisdiction and the extent of authority of the city police of a second class city in felony cases?

            2. After the cause of death has been determined does a county coroner have any jurisdiction of the case?

            3. In cases where there is reason to believe that there has been foul play or criminal negligence is the jurisdiction of the coroner and the sheriff concurrent or otherwise?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We conclude:

            1. The city police of a second class city has the power to arrest, hold, and investigate in felony cases occurring within the city.

            2. A county coroner has the power to determine the cause of death in cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that such death has been caused by unlawful means at the hands of another.  He may summon a coroner's jury, direct an autopsy and issue a warrant of arrest in a specific instance.  In certain instances he is given jurisdiction of dead bodies.

            3. The authority of the sheriff, the prosecutor and the coroner is concurrent in homicide cases resulting from foul play or criminal negligence.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            1. "* * * In felony cases a peace officer may, without a warrant, arrest any person who he believes, and has good and sufficient reason to believe, has committed, is about to commit, or is in the act of committing a felony.  * * *"  State v. Miles, 29 Wn. (2d) 921 (930).

            The power to arrest given a police officer implies the power to hold until superior authority intervenes.  The power to arrest given a police officer also implies the power to investigate and to report the results of the investigation to the proper officials, who normally would be the county prosecuting attorney, in felony cases.

            2. In cases where there exists reasonable grounds for a belief that a death has been caused by unlawful means at the hands of another, the county coroner is given the power to (a) go to the scene and there summon a coroner's jury "to inquire into the cause of death," Rem. Rev. Stat. 4181; (b) to issue a warrant of arrest if the identity of the person causing the unlawful death is ascertained by the jury, and such person be not in custody, Rem. Rev. Stat. 4190; and (c) to direct that an autopsy be performed, Rem. Rev. Stat. 2489.  In certain instances set forth in Rem. Rev. Stat. 6042 the coroner is given jurisdiction of bodies of deceased persons.

            3. As to the third question, it is properly concluded that the jurisdiction of the coroner and the sheriff is concurrent.  The coroner may not exercise his authority in such a manner as to prevent the sheriff or the prosecuting  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] attorney from performing their respective duties, and has no authority to determine that any particular law enforcement officer shall have exclusive jurisdiction in the investigation of a motor vehicle accident case.  The statutes relating to county sheriffs and county coroners do not grant to either an exclusive jurisdiction.  The general duties of a sheriff are clearly set out in Rem. Rev. Stat. 4157.  The sheriff is charged with keeping the public peace and safety, thus, his assumption of jurisdiction in a particular case is not deferred until after the coroner has performed his duties, but exists at the inception.  Each must exercise his duties with regard to the duties and responsibilities of the other.  The duties of proper law enforcement demand that the agencies charged with the enforcement work in harmony, and that the functions of one agency do not operate to the exclusion of others.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

LEO H. FREDRICKSON
Assistant Attorney General

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