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AGO 1964 No. 105 - May 26, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


COURTS ‑- JUSTICE OF THE PEACE ‑- NOT OPERATING UNDER 1961 JUSTICE COURT ACT ‑- MISDEMEANOR ‑- WARRANT OF ARREST ‑- SERVICE LIMITED BY TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION OF COURT.

A warrant of arrest charging a misdemeanor issued by a justice court located in a county which has not adopted the provisions of chapter 299, Laws of 1961 (the justice court act) may not be executed in another county of the state.

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

                                                                   May 26, 1964

Honorable Alf M. Jacobsen
Prosecuting Attorney
Klickitat County
109 North Grant Street
Goldendale, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 105

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on two questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) May a warrant of arrest charging commission of a misdemeanor and issued by a justice court located in a county which has not adopted the provisions of chapter 299, Laws of 1961, be executed in another county of the state?

            (2) If the above question is answered in the affirmative, what action may be taken where a peace office of the other county fails or refuses to execute the warrant?

            We answer your first question in the negative, for the reasons set forth in our analysis.  Accordingly, consideration of your second question is unnecessary.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Article IV, § 10 (Amendment 28), of our state constitution reads in part as follows:

            "Thelegislature. . . shall prescribe by law the powers, duties andjurisdiction of justices of the peace. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Our legislature, exercising this power, enacted § 1, chapter 35, Laws of 1901, which, as amended by § 1, chapter 98, Laws of 1909 (cf. RCW 3.20.040) provides in pertinent part as follows:

            "Justices of the peace shall have jurisdiction concurrent with the superior courts of all misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors committed in or which may be triedin their respective counties: . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            In addition, see § 2, chapter 89, Laws of 1941 (cf. RCW 3.20.050), amending § 1702 of the Code of 1881, to read as follows:

            "The jurisdiction of justices of the peace elected in pursuance of the provisions of this title shall be coextensive with the limits of the county in which they are elected or appointed."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Against the background of these statutes, a question arose in the case ofIn re Crawford, 148 Wash. 265, 268 Pac. 871 (1928), as to whether an arrest warrant issued by a justice of the peace of Cowlitz county which charged commission of a misdemeanor in that county could be executed in Grays Harbor county by the sheriff of the latter county.  In resolving the problem our supreme court first noted that, on the basis of the statutes above quoted, the territorial jurisdiction of justices of the peace was confined to their respective counties.  Thereupon, the court posed the question presented, and answered it as follows:

            "May a warrant of arrest issued by a justice of the peace upon a misdemeanor charge, triable before him, be lawfully executed by arresting the accused beyond his territorial jurisdiction?  It is elementary law that, in the absence of constitutional or statutory authority, a warrant of arrest cannot be lawfully executed by arresting the accused beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the justice or court issuing it.  1 Chitty's Criminal Law 48; 1 Bishop's New Criminal Procedure (2d ed.) p. 140.  No constitutional or statutory provision of this state has come to our notice, and we  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] think there is none, authorizing the execution of a justice of the peace warrant, issued upon a misdemeanor charge triable before him, by arresting the accused beyond his territorial jurisdiction."  (148 Wash. at 267.)

            Post-dating the court's decision in the Crawford case, supra, there have recently transpired two events of noteworthy significance; namely, (1) the enactment by our legislature of chapter 299, Laws of 1961, and (2) the promulgation by our supreme court in 1963 of its Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.  However, we are of the opinion that neither of these events has served to alter the rule of theCrawford case,supra, in regard to those justice courts which are not governed by the provisions of the aforesaid chapter 299, Laws of 1961.  We reason as follows:

            (a)Impact of chapter 299, Laws of 1961.  By chapter 299, Laws of 1961, supra, our state legislature enacted a comprehensive statute designed to effectuate a substantial reorganization of those courts of limited jurisdiction (justice courts, municipal and police courts) located in Class AA and Class A counties of the state, with the additional proviso (contained in § 2 thereof) that:

            ". . . The provisions of this act may be made applicable to any county of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth class upon a majority vote of its board of county commissioners."

            Section 67 of this act (RCW 3.50.180) relating to arrest warrants issued by certain municipal courts operating thereunder, provides as follows:

            "The warrant shall be directed to all peace officers in the state and shall be executed only by a peace officer.  It shall be executed by the arrest of the defendant and may be executed in any county or municipality of the state by any peace officer in the state. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Likewise, the power to issue criminal process on a state‑wide [[statewide]]basis is granted to all justice courts operating under chapter 299, Laws of 1961,supra, by § 121 thereof (RCW 3.66.100), which reads:

            "Every justice having authority to hear a particular case may issue civil process in and to any place in the county or counties in which his district is located, and criminal process in and to any place in the state."

            However, we have previously concluded that the provisions of chapter 299, Laws of 1961, are generally inapplicable to counties other than Class AA and Class A in the absence of affirmative action by the board of county commissioners of a lesser class county as prescribed by § 2, supra.  See, AGO 63-64 No. 67 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Chelan County on October 21, 1963]], a copy of which is enclosed.  From this it follows that neither of the above‑quoted statutory provisions has any bearing on arrest warrants issued by justice courts in counties not covered by the 1961 act.  Accordingly, the territorial execution of misdemeanor arrest warrants issued by this latter class of justice courts must be regarded as still being governed by RCW 3.20.040 and 3.20.050, supra, as applied in In re Crawford, supra, unless (and we now turn to the more difficult phase of your question) the territorial limitation (county rather than state) established thereby can be said to have been abrogated by the supreme court through its adoption in 1963 of its Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.

            (b)Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction‑-J. Crim. Rule 2.02.

            In 1963, the Washington Supreme Court adopted a set of procedural Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction which it subcategorized as (1) general rules, (2) civil rules, (3) criminal rules, and (4) traffic rules.  By General Rule 2, the scope of these rules was stated as follows:

            "These rules shall govern the procedure of civil, criminal, and traffic cases in all courts of limited jurisdiction inferior to the superior court."

            A part of the criminal rules is J. Crim. 2.02.  This rule is  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] entitled: "Warrant or Summons Upon Complaint," and provides in part as follows:

            "(a) Issuance.

            "(1)Warrant.  When a complaint is filed by a prosecuting attorney, a warrant for the arrest of the defendant shall issue.  If the complaint is not signed by a prosecuting attorney, and if from the examination of the complainant and other witnesses, if any, the judge has reasonable grounds to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant has committed it, a warrant shall issue for the arrest of the defendant.  If the offense is bailable, the judge shall set the amount of the bail and notify the defendant of his right to a hearing on the amount of the bail fixed.

            "(2)Summons.  A summons instead of a warrant may issue if the judge has reason to believe that the defendant will appear in response thereto, or if the defendant is a corporation.  It shall summon the defendant to appear before the judge issuing it at a stated time and place.  In any case in which it is lawful for an officer to arrest a person without a warrant, he may give such person a summons instead of arresting him.

            (3)Failure of defendant to appear after summons.  If a defendant fails to appear, or if there is reasonable cause to believe that he will fail to appear, a warrant of arrest shall issue.

            "(4)Additional warrants or summonses.  More than one warrant or summons may issue on the same complaint.

            "(b) Form.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            "(1)Warrant.  The warrant shall be in writing and in the name of the State of Washington, shall be signed by the judge with the title of his office, and shall state the date when issued and the municipality or county where issued.  It shall specify the name of the defendant, or if his name is unknown, any name or description by which he can be identified with reasonable certainty.  It shall describe the offense charged against the defendant; if the offense charged is triable in the county in which the warrant issues, the warrant shall command that the defendant be arrested and brought forthwith before the judge issuing the warrant.  If the offense is bailable, the warrant should indicate the amount of the bail fixed by the judge.

            "(2)Summons.  The summons shall be in the same form as the warrant except that it shall summon the defendant to appear before the judge issuing it at a stated time and place.

            "(c) Execution or Service.

            "(1)Execution of warrant.  The warrant shall be directed to all peace officers in the state and shall be executed only by a peace officer.

            "(2)Service of summons.  The summons may be served any place within the state.  It shall be served by a peace officer who shall deliver a copy of the same to the defendant personally, or it may be served by mailing the same, postage prepaid, to the defendant at his address.

            ". . ."

            The specific question to consider thus is whether by virtue of this rule an arrest warrant issued thereunder may be executed outside the county in which it is issued in a case  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] where the issuing judge is a judge of a justice court to which the state‑wide process provisions of chapter 299, Laws of 1961,supra, do not apply.1/

             The first point to be noted and emphasized in considering this matter is that nowhere in J. Crim. 2.02supra, has the supreme court specifically and expressly said that an arrest warrant issued thereunder may be executed outside the county where issued.  Subsection (c) (1), relating to execution of the warrant, merely reads:

            "The warrant shall be directed to all peace officers in the state and shall be executed only by a peace officer."

            By way of marked distinction, subsection (c) (2), relating to service of summons and immediately following the foregoing, states:

            "The summons may be servedany place within the state. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Furthermore, it will be noted that subsection (b) (1), relating to the form of the warrant, contains, among other provisions, the following:

            ". . .if the offense charged is triable in the county in which the warrant issues, the warrant shall command that the defendant be arrested and brought forthwith before the judge issuing the warrant. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

            In other words, this portion of the rule contemplates the possibility of a warrant issuing from a court in a county other than the county in which the offense charged is triable.  This definitely suggests a realization on the part of the court in adopting the rule that not all arrest warrants issued thereunder would be capable of valid execution throughout the state.

            Therefore, in short, it seems clear that a reading of J. Crim. 2.02,supra, does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that the supreme court intended arrest warrants issued thereunder to be in every case capable of valid execution throughout the state without regard to whether or not issued by a justice court located in a county covered by chapter 299, Laws of 1961, supra.  Indeed, the careful manner in which the rule is worded very definitely suggests to us that the court, in adopting the rule, was quite conscious of, and guided by, the following two principles:

            (1) The matter of where an arrest warrant issued by a justice or other inferior court, charging a misdemeanor triable by that court, may be validly executed is basically related to the territorial jurisdiction of the court issuing the warrant‑-In re Crawford, supra, and authorities cited therein.

            (2) Under Article IV, § 10 (Amendment 28), of our state constitution,supra, "thelegislature shall determine the number of justices of the peace to be elected andshall prescribe by law the powers, duties andjurisdiction of justices of the peace: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Additionally, in adopting this particular rule of criminal procedure the supreme court must have been aware that the legislatively established territorial jurisdiction of some justice courts (those operating under chapter 299, Laws of 1961) was then state wide, while the territorial jurisdiction of the others remained only county wide.  Similarly, the court was undoubtedly aware of the possibility that following the adoption of its rules additional counties might very well elect to bring their inferior courts into the justice court system established by the 1961 act.  See, in this regard AGO 63-64 No. 54 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Klickitat County on September 9, 1963]].

            In the light of these several factors, the task confronting  [[Orig. Op. Page 9]] the court was to adopt a rule which was sufficiently broad and flexible to be susceptible of application to both basic classes of justice and other inferior courts; i.e., (1) those operating under the provisions of chapter 299, Laws of 1961, (and therefore having state‑wide [[statewide]]territorial jurisdiction) and (2) those continuing to operate under preexisting statutes (and thereby limited in territorial jurisdiction to the area of the county in which located).  This task, we believe, the court has fully accomplished without in any way transgressing upon the legislature's constitutionally established function of determining the jurisdiction of inferior courts.  By J. Crim. Rule 2.02,supra, the court, in our opinion, has made provision for execution of arrest warrants issued by all courts of limited jurisdiction by any peace officer in the state.  At the same time it has left (as required by the constitution) to the legislature the matter of determining the aspect of territorial jurisdiction involved in execution of an arrest warrant‑-namely, where within the state the arrest warrant may be validly executed.

            Therefore, so long as the legislatively established territorial jurisdiction of those justice courts not operating under the provisions of chapter 299, Laws of 1961,supra, remains confined to the county in which the court is located, it is our opinion that arrest warrants issued by such courts charging the commission of misdemeanors triable before them may only be validly executed within the area of the county where issued‑-Accord: In re Crawford, supra, and authorities cited therein.  Thus, we answer your first question, paraphrased at the outset, in the negative.

            Consideration of your second question is thereby rendered unnecessary.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PHILIP R. AUSTIN
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/As to arrest warrants issued by justice courts located in counties governed by, or which have adopted, the provisions of chapter 299, Laws of 1961, state‑wide territorial validity exists pursuant to §§ 67 (RCW 3.50.180) and 121 (RCW 3.66.100), chapter 299, Laws of 1961, without regard to the scope of J. Crim. 2.02; hence, there obviously is no need to consider the impact of J. Crim. 2.02 on the holding of the court in In re Crawford, supra, in the case of those justice courts.

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