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AGO 1995 No. 11 - August 30, 1995
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Christine Gregoire | 1993-2004 | Attorney General of Washington

LAW ENFORCEMENT - CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES - PUBLIC FUNDS - USE OF PROCEEDS FROM FORFEITURE OF PROPERTY USED IN ILLEGAL DRUG ACTIVITY FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY NOT RELATED EXCLUSIVELY TO CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES

RCW 69.50.505(i) allows the use of drug proceeds for activities that relate to controlled substances but incidentally further other law enforcement purposes.

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                                                                 August 30, 1995

The HonorableMarlin Appelwick
State Representative District No. 46
P.O. Box 40691                                                                                               
Olympia, WA   98504-0691               

                                                                                                            Cite as:  AGO 1995 No. 11

Dear Representative Appelwick:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have asked for our opinion concerning the use that law enforcement agencies may make of proceeds derived from property forfeited under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, chapter 69.50 RCW.  We have paraphrased your question as follows:

            Does RCW 69.50.505(i) confine the use of drug forfeiture proceeds to law enforcement activities that are related exclusively to controlled substances?

For the reasons set forth in the following analysis, we conclude that the answer to your question is "no"—RCW 69.50.505(i) does not restrict the use of drug forfeiture proceeds to law enforcement activities that are related exclusively to controlled substances.

                                                                    ANALYSIS

            RCW 69.50.505(i), the statute about which you inquire, states:

                        Forfeited property and net proceeds not required to be paid to the state treasurer shall be retained by the seizing law enforcement agency exclusively for the expansion and improvement of controlled substances related law enforcement activity.  Money retained under this section may not be used to supplant preexisting funding sources.

            In considering your question, we are guided by principles of statutory construction.  The goal of statutory construction is to determine and give effect to legislative intent.  In attempting to discern legislative intent, courts look first to what the Legislature said—i.e., the language of the statute itself.  If that language is clear, the court determines the statute's meaning from the language of the statute alone.  State ex rel. Royal v. Board of Yakima Cy. Comm'rs, 123 Wn.2d 451, 869 P.2d 56 (1994).  When the Legislature has not defined terms used in a statute and absent contrary intent evident in the statute, such terms are given their common and ordinary meaning.  Dictionaries are appropriate sources for determining such meaning.  American Legion Post 32 v. Walla Walla, 116 Wn.2d 1, 802 P.2d 784 (1991).

            In essence, your question is whether RCW 69.50.505(i) precludes use of drug forfeiture proceeds for law enforcement activities that relate to controlled substances, when those activities also further other law enforcement purposes.  We conclude that the above-described rules of statutory construction dictate a negative response to this inquiry.

            Unquestionably, RCW 69.50.505(i) restricts the use of drug forfeiture proceeds exclusively to a statutorily defined purpose.  This exclusive purpose is "the expansion and improvement of controlled substances related law enforcement activity".[1]  Notably, the language of RCW 69.50.505(i) does not confine the use of drug forfeiture proceeds exclusively to “controlled substances law enforcement activity” or to “law enforcement activity exclusively related to controlled substances”.  Rather, it authorizes use of such proceeds exclusively for “controlled substancesrelated law enforcement activity”.  RCW 69.50.595(i) (emphasis added).  In its ordinary and common meaning, the term "related" does not connote an exclusive relationship or connection.  Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary defines related as:  "1 Connected:  associated".  Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary 992 (1984).  Webster's New World Dictionary similarly defines related and in offering synonyms for the term, states that "applied to things", related implies "close connection through common origin, interdependence, etc.".  Webster's New World Dictionary 1227 (1968).

            Thus, looking at the statute and its ordinary meaning, we conclude that RCW 69.50.505(i) authorizes use of drug forfeiture proceeds for law enforcement activities having a close connection to controlled substances.[2]  Where such a close connection exists, we do not believe that such law enforcement activities become ineligible for drug forfeiture proceeds under RCW 69.50.505(i) simply because they also relate to additional law enforcement objectives.[3]

            This is not to suggest that drug forfeiture proceeds are available under RCW 69.50.505(i) for general law enforcement activities having no significant relationship to enforcing controlled substances laws.  The focus of RCW 69.50.505(i), and chapter 69.50 RCW as a whole, is regulation of controlled substances.  Considering the ordinary meaning of the term “related” and the context in which it appears[4], it seems evident that RCW 69.50.505(i) is intended to ensure that law enforcement agencies use drug forfeiture proceeds to enhance and improve law enforcement activities having a close and demonstrable relationship to enforcement of controlled substances laws.

            We trust this fully responds to your inquiry and that it will be of assistance to you.

                                                                        Sincerely,
                                                                        MAUREEN HART
                                                                        Sr. Assistant Attorney General
                                                                        (360) 753-2536


    [1]             The statute also precludes use of drug forfeiture proceeds to replace preexisting funding sources.

    [2]             We find no contrary intent expressed elsewhere in this statute.  To the contrary, RCW 69.50.505 authorizes several uses of property forfeited under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and proceeds derived from such property.  RCW 69.50.505(f)(1) authorizes the seizing law enforcement agency to retain forfeited property "for official use".  Alternatively, under certain circumstances, the seizing law enforcement agency may transfer such property to another law enforcement agency "for the exclusive use of enforcing the provisions of this chapter".  Net proceeds of forfeited property that must be remitted to the State Treasurer are deposited in the drug enforcement and education account and may be used to fund services and programs that do not relate exclusively to controlled substances laws.  RCW 69.50.505(h)(1), 69.50.520.

    [3]             For example, a law enforcement agency may believe it necessary to devote additional patrol resources to an area experiencing a high volume of illicit drug activities.  Certainly, this would be a law enforcement activity significantly related to enforcement of controlled substances laws for purposes of funding under RCW 69.50.505(i), even though the additional patrol also serves more general crime deterrent purposes.

    [4]             The context in which a term appears is an appropriate consideration in determining its meaning.  State v. Wanrow, 88 Wn.2d. 221, 559 P.2d 548 (1977).

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