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AGO 1951 No. 134 - September 25, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

JUSTICE OF THE PEACE ‑- JURISDICTION ‑- TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

A justice of the peace has jurisdiction only as a committing magistrate or crimes requiring as punishment both fine and imprisonment.

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                                                              September 25, 1951

Honorable Tom A. Durham
Whatcom County Prosecutor
Whatcom County Courthouse
311 Grand Avenue
Bellingham, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 134

Dear Sir:

            You inquire whether

            A justice of the peace has jurisdiction of offenses which require both fine and imprisonment.

            We conclude that

            His sole jurisdiction is that of committing magistrate.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The specific statute toward which you direct your inquiry is Rem. Rev. Stat. § 6312-69 (P.P.C. § 289-53) which sets the penalty for driving while one's license has been revoked at

            "* * * imprisonment in the county jail for not less than ten (10) days nor more than one (1) year and by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00)" (Emphasis supplied).

            The jurisdiction of justices of the peace is defined by Rem. Rev. Stat. § 46 (P.P.C. § 148-1), which provides:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "Justices of the peace shall have jurisdiction concurrent with the superior courts of all misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors committed in order which may be tried in their respective counties:  Provided, that justices of the peace in cities of the first class shall in no event impose greater punishment than a fine of five hundred dollars, or imprisonment in the county jail for six months; and justices of the peace other than those elected in cities of the first class shall in no event impose greater punishment than a fine of one hundred dollars,or imprisonment in the county jail for thirty days."  (Emphasis supplied).

            State ex rel. Rush v. Orton, 145 Wash. 289, 259 Pac. 1077 (1927) held that under the section just quoted a justice of the peace does not have power to impose both a fine and imprisonment.  It therefore follows that the justice of the peace is without authority to impose the penalty provided by Rem. Rev. Stat. § 6312-69.  See alsoSeattle v. Oliver, 78 Wash. 586, 139 Pac. 626 (1914).

            The Supreme Court inState ex rel. Wagner v. Superior Court, 144 Wash. 71, 256 Pac. 784 (1927) held that a justice of the peace had no jurisdiction totry a case involving an offense for which he is incompetent to impose the penalty required by law.

            It is therefore our opinion that the sole jurisdiction of a justice of the peace for violations of Rem. Rev. Stat. § 6312-69, supra, is that of a committing magistrate with power to bind over to the superior court.  Such cases therefore must in the final instance be tried and settled by the superior court, and for this reason most prosecuting attorneys initiate such prosecutions in the superior court.

            Our previous opinions stating that a justice of the peace had no "jurisdiction" for violations of Rem. Rev. Stat. § 6312-69 meant jurisdiction totry the cases.  We enclose a copy of our opinion of January 25, 1951, to State Representative Arthur Cory [[Opinion No. 49-51-438]]regarding suspension of such sentences.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

JENNINGS P. FELIX
Assistant Attorney General

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