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AGO 1964 No. 110 - June 25, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


Under rules for courts of limited jurisdiction promulgated by the state supreme court, execution of criminal warrants issued by justice courts is not limited to sheriffs or constables but they may be executed by any peace officer.

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                                                                   June 25, 1964

Honorable Sid Buckley
Prosecuting Attorney
Stevens County
Colville, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 110

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on the following paraphrased question:

            May any officer other than a sheriff or a constable serve a criminal warrant issued out of a justice court?

            We answer your question in the affirmative for the reason set out in the following analysis.


            One of the requirements for any valid warrant is that it be directed to some officer, group of officers, or civilian who then has the responsibility and privilege of serving it.  In "Procedure and the Law of Arrest, Search and Seizure" by Raymond A. Dahl and Howard H. Boyle, Jr., it is stated on page 48:

            "In order to be valid a warrant must be directed to peace officers or to a designated person.  Only a person designated by the warrant is privileged to serve it.  'A warrant may be directed to peace officers generally or to a particular class of peace officers in which case any person within the designated class may execute the warrant.  If not directed to peace  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] officers, it must be directed to a designated person.'  The person or persons to whom the warrant is directed have no power to delegate their authority.  For instance, a police officer may not empower a citizen to serve a warrant‑- though he may, of course, call for assistance of others in making an arrest under the warrant.

            "Most police officers are empowered to serve arrest warrants directed to peace officers generally. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)1/

             Thus, not only must the warrant be properly directed, it must then be executed only by the person or persons designated.

            The pertinent statutes on the subject of to whom justice court warrants are to be directed are RCW 10.07.010, providing:

            "The following or equivalent forms may be used by justices of the peace in criminal proceedings."

            and RCW 10.07.070, reading:

            "FORM OF WARRANT.

            "THE STATE OF WASHINGTON,        COUNTY, ss.

            "To the sheriff or any constable of said county:  Whereas, A.B. has this day complained in writing under oath to the undersigned, . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            However, the legislature has given to the supreme court of this state the authority to adopt rules of procedure for justice courts by RCW 3.30.080, as follows:

            "The supreme court may adopt rules of procedure for justice courts:  Provided, That the justice courts may adopt rules of procedure not inconsistent with state law or with the rules adopted by the supreme court.  If the rules of the supreme court herein authorized shall be adopted, all procedural laws in conflict therewith shall thenceforth be of no effect."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Acting pursuant to this statute, the supreme court in 1963 adopted the following procedural rule (J. Crim. Rule 2.02) for courts of limited jurisdiction:


            "(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.

            ". . .

            "(c) Execution or Service.

            "(1) Execution of warrant.  The warrant shall be directed to all peace officers  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]in the state and shall be executed only by a peace officer."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The supreme court has by adopting the above rule exercised the powers granted to it by the legislature; it has abrogated the statutory provisions for issuing justice court warrants, and provided that justice court warrants be directed to all peace officers in the state.  Therefore, since the common-law rule is that anyone to whom a warrant is directed may serve that warrant, it follows that not only sheriffs and constables may execute justice court warrants but any peace officer in the state may do so.2/

             We trust this opinion will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See, also, "Law of Arrest," Vol. 1, by Alexander, at page 407; 22 C.J.S. 830, § 373, under Criminal Law; 4 Am.Jur. 8, under Arrest; and Restatement of the Law of Torts, § 123 (b) 5.

2/In this connection see AGO 63-64 No. 105 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Klickitat County on May 26, 1964]], as to where the warrant may be executed, copy enclosed.

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