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AGO 1988 No. 9 - May 09, 1988
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

CRIMES ‑- COURTS ‑- COUNTIES ‑- COUNTY FUNDS ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- CITY AND TOWN ORDINANCES

1.  !ih*If a city or town police officer arrests a person for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor violation of state law within the city or town limits and delivers that person to county authorities for prosecution, the county has no authority to charge the city or town for booking, jailing, or prosecution of the person, unless the city or town has agreed by contract to assume some of those costs.

2.  The Court Improvement Act of 1984 (Laws of 1984, Chapter 258) does not require cities and towns to agree to reimburse counties for costs of booking, jailing, or prosecution where the city or town chooses to charge persons for violations of state law, even where the city or town could have chosen to prosecute for parallel violations of city or town ordinance. 

3.  Where a city or town has repealed a portion of its municipal code, defining a crime or crimes equivalent to offenses listed in RCW 46.63.020, but has not reached agreement with the county for apportionment of costs associated with those offenses, the county may not unilaterally assess costs against the city or town.  The county may bring court action to force the city or town to meet its obligations under the Court Improvement Act of 1984 (Laws of 1984, Chapter 258), and may be entitled in appropriate cases to recoup portions of costs incurred since the effective date of the Act. 

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                                                                    May 9, 1988 

Honorable Scott Barr
State Senator
Seventh District
Route 1, Box 130
Edwall, WA 99008

 Cite as:  AGO 1988 No. 9                                                                                                                  

 Dear Senator Barr:

             By recent letter, you requested the opinion of this office on several questions which we have rephrased as follows:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]

 1.  !ih*If a city or town police officer arrests a person for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor violation of state law within the corporate limits of that city or town and delivers the person to county authorities for prosecution, does the county have legal authority to charge the city or town for booking, jailing, and prosecution of the person absent a contract between the city and county for these costs?

 2.  Does the answer to question 1 depend in whole or in part on whether the city or town has failed to reach an agreement with the county or has refused to negotiate or arbitrate with the county pursuant to the 1984 Court Improvement Act?

 3.  If a city or town has repealed a portion of its municipal code defining crimes equivalent to offenses listed in RCW 46.63.020, but has not reached agreement with the county for apportionment of costs associated with those offenses, may a county then assess costs associated with prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing of those offenders arrested by city or town officials?

 4.  If the county may assess any of these costs, may it recoup them for the period since 1984 in those cases where cities or towns repealed municipal offenses that were equivalent to offenses listed in RCW 46.63.020, but did not enter into cost-apportionment agreements as contemplated by the 1984 Act?

             We answer questions 1, 2 and 3 in the negative, and question 4 in the manner discussed below.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

 Question 1

             If a city or town police officer arrests a person for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor violation of state law within the corporate limits of that city or town and delivers the person to county authorities for prosecution, does the county have legal authority to charge the city or town for booking, jailing, and prosecution of the person absent a contract between the city and county for these costs?

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]

             At the outset, we note that as a general rule "counties are burdened with the cost of administering the criminal laws within their boundaries  . . .  ."  State v. Agren, 32 Wn. App. 827, 828, 650 P.2d 238 (1982).

             We will first address the part of your question that relates to the jailing of a person arrested for a misdemeanor 1/

              violation of state law pending either conviction or acquittal.  In AGO 1980 No. 21, this office addressed this issue with respect to persons arrested for the commission of a felony.  AGO 1980 No. 21 cited the portion of RCW 36.01.060 that provides as follows:

             Each county shall be liable to pay  . . . the fees of the sheriff for maintaining prisoners charged with crimes, and his costs in conveying them to and from the court, as well as their board while there  . .  .

 This office concluded that RCW 36.01.060 answers the question of financial responsibility for felony arrestees under the following rationale:

             The prisoners in question are in the custody of the county sheriff, housed in the county jail and charged with state offenses for which they are to be prosecuted by the county prosecuting attorney.  The mere fact that those prisoners are there because they were arrested by a city police officer gives rise to no legal basis, in our judgment, for passing all of the resulting costs of confinement on to the city.

 AGO 1980 No. 21 at 3 (footnote omitted).

             The same reasoning applies to persons arrested by city or town police officers for state misdemeanor offenses.  RCW 36.01.060 states that the county is liable to pay for jailing persons charged with "crimes."  "Crimes" is not defined for purposes of Title 36 RCW.  We therefore turn to the principles of statutory construction that (1) an undefined word is accorded its ordinary meaning, Davis v. Department of Empl. Sec., 108 Wn.2d 272, 277, 737 P.2d 1262 (1987), and (2) that the ordinary meaning of a word may be determined by reference to dictionaries.  Brenner v. Leake, 46 Wn. App. 852, 854-55, 732 P.2d 1031 (1987).  Dictionaries define "crime" as follows:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

             A positive or negative act in violation of penal law; an offense against the State or United States.

            "Crime" and "misdemeanor," properly speaking, are synonymous terms; though in common usage "crime" is made to denote such offenses as are of a more serious nature.

 Black's Law Dictionary 334 (5th ed. 1979).

             [A]n act  . . . that is forbidden  . . . by a public law of a sovereign state to the injury of the public welfare and that makes the offender liable to punishment by that law in a proceeding brought against him by the state  . . . [A]n offense against public law (as a misdemeanor, felony, or act of treason) providing a penalty against the offender but not including a petty violation of municipal regulation  . . .

 Webster's Third New International Dictionary 536 (1981).

             Furthermore, the Washington Criminal Code states that misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors are crimes:

             An offense defined by this title or by any other statute of this state, for which a sentence of imprisonment is authorized, constitutes a crime.  Crimes are classified as felonies, gross misdemeanors, or misdemeanors.

 RCW 9A.04.040(1).  We think the ordinary meaning of "crimes" as reflected in dictionary definitions and the state criminal code includes misdemeanors.  Accordingly, we conclude that under RCW 36.01.060, a county is liable to pay for the cost of housing in jail a person charged with a misdemeanor violation of state statute, regardless of who arrested that person.

             We next turn to the part of your question relating to the prosecution of a person arrested by a city or town police officer for a state misdemeanor violation.  The county prosecuting attorney has the duty to "[p]rosecute all criminal  . . . actions in which the state or county may be a party  . . ." RCW 36.27.020(4).  Accordingly, the prosecuting attorney must prosecute or make some other disposition of all criminal violations of state statutes.  The prosecuting attorney, his deputies, and other employees are county officials.  The county is responsible for the cost of these officials carrying out the duties imposed on them by law.

             Your question also includes the subject of booking.  As we understand the term, booking refers to the process of taking an  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] arrested person to a city or county office to record the person's name and the offense with which he is charged. We have found no statute or court rule that prescribes the booking process. In the absence thereof, we conclude that the county, as the entity with the statutory responsibility to prosecute persons who have violated state law, is also responsible to ensure that the necessary booking takes place.  If the city or town police officer who effects the arrest does not book the arrestee, the county must book the arrestee and bear the expense thereof.

             Finally, we address the jailing of persons convicted of state misdemeanor offenses.  Sheriffs have the duty to "commit to prison . . . all persons guilty of public offenses . . . ."  RCW 36.28.010(1).  Since a county official is responsible for housing persons convicted of state offenses, the county must bear the expense thereof.

            In summary, the statutes discussed above assign to counties the responsibility for enforcing state misdemeanor laws. 2/

              We have found no authority permitting counties to charge cities or towns for a portion of these expenses.  We therefore conclude that counties may not charge for the booking, jailing, and prosecution of state misdemeanor violators arrested by city or town police officers.

             Other authorities, while not precisely on point, lend support to our conclusion.  RCW 3.62.070 permits district courts3/

              to impose a filing fee on cities to cover the cost of city ordinance violations filed by a city in district court, but prohibits the county from imposing a filing fee in all other cases.  InState v. Agren,supra, the court found the county, rather than the State, liable for the defendant's costs on appeal, stating that absent a statute to the contrary, "the general rule is that countries are burdened with the cost of  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] administering the criminal laws within their boundaries."  32 Wn. App. at 828.

             Because state law places on counties the responsibility for administering the criminal laws of the state, we answer your first question in the negative.

 Question 2

             Does the answer to question 1 depend in whole or in part on whether the city or town has failed to reach an agreement with the county or has refused to negotiate or arbitrate with the county pursuant to the 1984 Court Improvement Act?

             The Court Improvement Act of 1984 4/

             placed on cities and towns certain restrictions that fall into the following basic categories:

             (1) A municipality that, prior to July 1, 1984, 5/

              had repealed in its entirety the portion of its municipal code defining crimes but continued to hear and determine traffic infraction cases under chapter 46.63 RCW in a municipal court, was required to enter an interlocal cooperation agreement with the appropriate county prior to January 1, 1985.  Such an agreement was to provide for payments to the county to cover costs incurred after January 1, 1985, associated with prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing in criminal cases filed in district court as a result of the repeal of portions of the municipal code.  If the municipality and the county were unable to reach an agreement by January 1, 1985, they were deemed to have entered into an agreement to submit the issue to arbitration pursuant to chapter 7.04 RCW.  RCW 3.50.800.

            (2) A municipality operating a municipal court under RCW 35.20.010, chapter 3.46 RCW, or chapter 3.50 RCW on July 1, 1984, is not permitted to terminate the court until it has reached an agreement with the county for the payment of a reasonable amount for costs associated with prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing in criminal cases filed in district court as a result of termination of the court.  RCW 3.46.150, 3.50.805(1), 35.20.010.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

             (3) A municipality operating a municipal court on July 1, 1984, is required to reach an agreement to compensate the county for costs associated with prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing in criminal cases, before the municipality may:  a) repeal in its entirety the portion of the municipal code defining crimes; b) repeal a provision of its municipal code that defines a crime equivalent to an offense listed in RCW 46.63.020; or c) with respect to a municipal court organized under chapter 3.50 RCW, repeal in its entirety the portion of the municipal code defining crimes while retaining the court's authority to hear and determine traffic infractions under chapter 46.63 RCW.  RCW 3.50.805(2)-(3), 35.22.425, 35.23.595, 35.24.455, 35.27.515, 35.30.100, 35A.11.200.

             The 1984 Act applies to specific circumstances involving either (1) the termination of a municipal court or (2) the repeal of municipal code provisions.  Where these specific circumstances do not exist, the 1984 Act cannot be read to have placed new financial responsibilities on cities or towns.

             The question you pose involves neither the termination of a court nor the repeal of portions of a municipal code, and we therefore conclude that the 1984 Act places no financial responsibility on the city or town in the circumstances you have described.  We cannot conclude that the 1984 Act is violated when municipal police officers elect to charge some violations under the pertinent sections of state law rather than parallel municipal ordinances.  It is a principle of statutory construction that the express mention of one thing implies the exclusion of other things not mentioned.  Bradley v. Department of Labor & Indus., 52 Wn.2d 780, 784, 329 P.2d 196 (1958).  When the Legislature in 1984 imposed new requirements only with respect to the termination of courts and repeal of ordinances, it must be presumed that it intended to impose no new requirements in all other circumstances.6/

              [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

             Accordingly, we answer your second question in the negative.

 Question 3

             If a city or town has repealed a portion of its municipal code defining a crime or crimes equivalent to offenses listed in RCW 46.63.020, but has not reached agreement with the county for apportionment of costs associated with those offenses, may a county then assess costs associated with prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing of those offenders arrested by city or town officials?

             A city or town that after July 1, 1984, repealed a portion of its municipal code defining crimes equivalent to offenses listed in RCW 46.63.020, but had not at the time of repeal reached a cost-apportionment agreement with the county, acted in violation of RCW 3.50.805(3), 35.22.425, 35.23.595, 35.24.455, 35.27.515, 35.30.100, or 35A.11.200.

            Nevertheless, we cannot conclude that a county may unilaterally charge such a city the costs the county deems to be associated with a repeal of city ordinances.  As stated in the discussion of question 1 above, we are aware of no provision of law, including the 1984 Act, that authorizes a county to unilaterally calculate and impose charges on a city or town to cover such costs.  Furthermore, the Legislature did not specify the kinds and amounts of expenses chargeable to cities under the 1984 Act.  When a person is harmed by another's violation of the law, the injured party in most instances is required to seek relief in the courts.  If county officials believe that a city has violated the 1984 Act, it appears to us that the county's recourse is to bring a court action seeking to establish the violation and the amount of compensation owing the county as a result of the violation.

             This conclusion finds support in the fact that other part of the 1984 Act provide for non-judicial resolution in the event the city and county are unable to agree.  RCW 3.50.800 states, with respect to municipal codes terminated prior to July 1, 1984, that a city and a county unable to agree on cost-apportionment shall be deemed to have submitted the matter to arbitration.  Similarly, the Legislature imposed an arbitration requirement in connection with the review and renewal of agreements reached under RCW 3.50.805, 35.20.010, 35.22.425, 34.23.595, 35.24.455, 35.27.515, 35.30.100, and 35A.11.200.  The Legislature could have provided for arbitration or permitted the county to unilaterally charge the city in the event a city violated the 1984 Act in the manner you describe.  Given the Legislature's silence on this  [[Orig. Op. Page 9]] particular point, we cannot read the statute as permitting the county any recourse except for its usual recourse in the courts.

             We therefore answer question 3 in the negative.

 Question 4

             If the county may assess any of these costs, may it recoup them for the period since 1984 in those cases where cities or towns repealed municipal offenses that were equivalent to offenses listed in RCW 46.63.020, but did not enter into cost-apportionment agreements as contemplated by the 1984 Act?

             In light of our answer to question 3, it is unnecessary to answer this question except to add that, in any court action brought by a county, the court might well conclude that there is retroactive liability on the part of a city or town that has violated a provision of the 1984 Act.

             We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

JEAN M. WILKINSON
Assistant Attorney General

                                                          ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/References throughout this opinion to "misdemeanors" encompass both misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors.

 2/Underlying the question you actually posed is a separate question; specifically, whether a city or town police officer may elect to charge a person with a violation of state law when the police officer could instead charge the person with a violation of a city or town ordinance.  We have searched both the statutes governing cities and towns and the 1984 Court Improvement Act.  We have found no provision that requires a city or town police officer to charge a person under an applicable local ordinance rather than a state law.

 3/District courts are operated by counties.  See RCW 3.62.050.

 4/Laws of 1984, ch. 258.

 5/The effective date of the pertinent sections of the 1984 Court Improvement Act.  Laws of 1984, ch. 258, § 902.

 6/Depending on the facts of a particular case, a county might be able to argue that there has been a de facto repeal of municipal code provisions because the municipality's police officers have completely ceased charging violations of the provisions.  If a county is able to prove that the municipality's charging practices have the same effect as an actual repeal of pertinent municipal code provisions, a court might find that the 1984 Act has been violated.  However, as discussed in our answer to question 3, even where county officials believe a violation of the 1984 Act has occurred, the county has no basis for unilaterally imposing charges on the municipality.

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