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AGO 1982 No. 4 - January 28, 1982
AGO Opinion Header Image
Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

COURTS ‑- JUSTICE COURTS ‑- MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- VENUE IN CASE OF CRIMINAL OFFENSES UNDER MOTOR VEHICLE CODE 

The proper venue for those violations of the state Motor Vehicle Code which remain criminal offenses under RCW 46.63.020, in those counties governed by the 1961 Justice Court Act, is in the district justice court of the district in which the alleged violation occurred in accordance with RCW 3.66.070. 

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

                                                                 January 28, 1982 

Honorable Russ Juckett
Prosecuting Attorney
Snohomish County
3000 Rockefeller Avenue
Everett, Washington 98201

Cite as:  AGO 1982 No. 4                                                                                                                  

 Dear Sir:

             By letter previously acknowledged, you requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

             In which district court is an action alleging a violation of the state Motor Vehicle Code to be filed where the particular violation with which the defendant has been charged remains a criminal offense under RCW 46.63.020, and the violation occurred in a Class A county which is thus governed by the 1961 Justice Court Act?

             We answer the foregoing question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             As you know, the legislature, by its enactment of § 10, Chapter 128, Laws of 1980 (RCW 46.63.020), reclassified most minor traffic violations as non-criminal "infractions" and left only the more serious violations in the category of criminal offenses.  Among the matters which remain as criminal offenses, however, are such things as the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a controlled substance (RCW 46.52.100), reckless or negligent driving (RCW 46.61.500 and 46.61.525), and the operation of a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked license (RCW 46.20.420).

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Your question, as clarified following our initial receipt of your request, asks us to assume the case of a person who is being charged with such acriminal traffic offense in a Class A county which is thus governed by the provisions of the 1961 Justice Court Act, Chapter 299, Laws of 1961 as amended.  In addition, in order to refine the issue which you are asking us to resolve, you have further directed our attention, in your letter, to two particular statutes which, you suggest, are in conflict.

             The first of those statutes is RCW 46.52.100, a part of the Motor Vehicle Code, which relates to traffic offenses, generally, and provides, in pertinent part:

             ". . .

            "Venue in all justice courts shall be before one of the two nearest justices of the peace in incorporated cities and towns nearest to the point the violation allegedly occurred:  PROVIDED, That in counties of class A and of the first class such cases may be tried in the county seat at the request of the defendant.

             ". . ."

             This provision was added to RCW 46.52.100 by an amendment contained in § 2, chapter 393, Laws of 1955.  And, although other portions of RCW 46.52.100 have since been further amended,1/ the language of the above‑quoted paragraph has not subsequently been altered.

             The other statute cited in your letter is RCW 3.66.070 which reads as follows:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "All criminal actions shall be brought in the justice court district where the alleged violation occurred:  PROVIDED, That (1) the prosecuting attorney may file felony cases in the district in which the county seat is located and (2) with the consent of the defendant criminal actions other than those arising out of violations of city ordinances may be brought in or transferred to the district in which the county seat is located."

             This statute originated as § 118, chapter 299, Laws of 1961, a part of the 1961 Justice Court Act,supra, and has likewise not since been amended.

             (1)Scope of Apparent Conflict:

             The area of apparent conflict between the two statutes may be readily identified with a hypothetical example.  A person is arrested for driving while intoxicated at some particular place in a county which is covered by the 1961 Justice Court Act.  That place, where the offense is alleged to have occurred, is situated within a particular justice court district.2/   At the same time, however, because of the physical location of justice court facilities in the county, it is the justice court of the adjacent district which, instead, is actually ". . . nearest to the point the violation allegedly occurred . . ."  RCW 46.52.100,supraQuaere:  May the accused therefore be cited into that geographically nearest justice court even though it is located in a district court other than ". . . the justice court where the alleged violation occurred . . ."?

             (2)Possible Solutions:

             In dealing with an apparent conflict between two such statutory provisions, we are directed, by numerous court decisions, to attempt, if possible, to reconcile the conflict through the process of statutory construction and give effect to both.  See,e.g.,State v. Clausen, 63 Wash. 535, 540, 116 Pac. 7 (1911).  Let us, therefore, next consider the following possibilities in that regard:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            (a) The first thought which emerges as a possible solution is to say that RCW 3.66.070 governs in those counties which are covered by the 1961 Justice Court Act while RCW 46.52.100 continues to determine venue in all other counties.  And, at the time of enactment of the 1961 act, that could well have been a viable approach‑-as well as an explanation for the legislature's retention of the venue paragraph of RCW 46.52.100, supra.  For, by its express terms, the 1961 act only applied, automatically, to Class AA and Class A counties‑-coupled with optional application to,

             ". . . any [other] county of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth class upon a majority vote of its board of county commissioners."3/

              In the twenty years which have since elapsed, however, we are informed that every one of those other counties have, in fact, exercised that option and have thereby caused the 1961 Justice Court Act to encompass the entire state.

            (b) A second possible solution emerges.  With the decriminalization of most minor traffic offenses as a consequence of chapter 128, Laws of 1980,supra, it might, nevertheless, seem possible to reconcile the apparent conflict between RCW 46.52.100 and RCW 3.66.070, supra, on another basis;  i.e., by reading RCW 3.66.070 as the governing statute in criminal cases (such as those posited by your question) while continuing to give effect to the venue provision of RCW 46.52.100 for the purpose of filing of charges innoncriminal traffic infraction cases.  There is, however, an obstacle to this approach as well.  While those noncriminal traffic infraction cases are no longer encompassed, with respect to justice court jurisdiction, by RCW 3.66.070, supra, they are covered by RCW 3.66.020(3) and RCW 3.66.040(3) which, read together, require that civil actions for penalties not exceeding $3,000 ". . . be brought in the district in which the cause of action, or some part thereof arose."4/   Accordingly, while the  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] conflict between the two statutes which are specifically cited in your letter might be reconciled on this second suggested basis, that approach would lead us only from the frying pan to the fire, so to speak.  We would still be faced with virtually an identical conflict situation, with respect to venue, in noncriminal traffic infraction cases.

             (c) Having thus failed to resolve the conflict by either of the foregoing means, we therefore march onward.  And, at this point, we reach an argument which you have asked us to consider in your letter requesting this opinion.

             As above noted, RCW 3.66.070, supra, was initially enacted as § 118, chapter 299, Laws of 1961, a part of the 1961 Justice Court Act, and has not since been amended.  Conversely, although the venue paragraph of RCW 46.52.100, supra, was enacted even earlier, by § 2, chapter 393, Laws of 1955, and has likewise not since been amended, other provisions of RCW 46.52.100 have been amended by the legislature on several occasions‑-most recently in 1979.5/   Therefore, you suggest, the venue paragraph itself has thus been "reenacted" and should, as the later act in point of time, prevail.

             The fallacy which we see in this argument, however, stems from its characterization of the subsequent amendments to RCW 46.52.100 as reenactments of so much of the statute as (repeated for ease of reference) provides that:

             ". . .

              [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            "Venue in all justice courts shall be before one of the two nearest justices of the peace in incorporated cities and towns nearest to the point the violation allegedly occurred:  PROVIDED, That in counties of class A and of the first class such cases may be tried in the county seat at the request of the defendant.

             ". . ."

             However, the legislature does not, by repeating the full text of a statute which is being amended, thereby reenact the entire statute.  Rather, it only enacts the particular change which is indicated and the rest of the section being amended is set forth only for the purpose of compliance with Article II, § 37 of the state constitution which provides that:

             "No act shall ever be revised or amended by mere reference to its title, but the act revised or the section amended shall be set forth at full length."

             See,Knowlton v. Mason County, 134 Wash. 255, 235 Pac. 33 (1925) andState ex rel. School District No. 102 v. Clausen, 116 Wash. 432, 199 Pac. 752 (1921), both quoting with approval from McLaughlin v. Mayor, Etc., City of Newark, 57 N.J.L. 298, 30 Atl. 543 (1894), as follows:

             "'By observing the constitutional form of amending a section of a statute, the legislature does not express an intention then to enact the whole section as amended, but only an intention then to enact the change which is indicated.  Any other rule of construction would surely introduce unexpected results and work great inconvenience.'"

 

            Thus, in actuality, the latest of the two conflicting statutes, in point of time, is really RCW 3.66.070 and not RCW 46.52.100 at all‑-insofar as the question of venue in traffic infraction cases is concerned.  And, while that statute did not totally occupy the field when it was first enacted in 1961, it now does‑-as a consequence of the above‑noted action by boards of county commissioners throughout the entire state in bringing their counties under the 1961 Justice Court Act.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            (3)Ultimate Answer:

             That act (RCW 3.66.070), in turn, is a general, comprehensive law covering the entire subject of both criminal and civil litigation in the justice courts of our state as they now exist.  In essence, by enacting the 1961 Justice Court Act, the legislature provided for a complete, comprehensive restructuring of the entire inferior court system in those Class AA and Class A counties to which the Act, by its express terms, initially applied.  In addition, the legislature provided for the same comprehensive restructuring of inferior courts in all other counties on a local option basis.  And, manifestly, the legislature thereby intended to supersede any prior, conflicting legislation governing procedures in the justice courts.

            This, then, represents our ultimate resolution of the conflict and answer to your question.  In our opinion, for the foregoing reasons, it is RCW 3.66.070, supra, and not RCW 46.52.200, supra, which now is determinative of venue for the filing of charges involving those traffic violations which remain criminal offenses under RCW 46.63.020,supra.  Moreover, since the 1961 Justice Court Act is now applicable in all counties, it follows that, while your question is limited to a Class A county, our answer is of statewide effect.

             We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General 

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/See, most recently, § 163, chapter 158, Laws of 1979, § 4, chapter 176, Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess. and § 81, chapter 136, Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess.

 2/See, RCW 3.38.010, et seq. which provide for the creation of justice court districts within those counties covered by the 1961 act.

 3/Section 2, chapter 229, Laws of 1961, now codified as RCW 3.30.020.

 4/RCW 3.66.040(3), the full text of which reads:

             "(3) An action arising under RCW 3.66.020, subsection (3) and (5) shall be brought in the district in which the cause of action, or some part thereof arose."

 RCW 3.66.020(3), in turn, provides that:

             "The justice court shall have jurisdiction and cognizance of the following civil actions and proceedings:

             ". . .

             "(3) Of an action for a penalty not exeeding [exceeding] three thousand dollars;

            ". . ."

 5/See, footnote 1, above. 

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