Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1958 No. 148 - Jan 17 1958
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


A county has no authority to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of a person against whom no criminal charge has been filed.

It is against public policy for sheriffs, their deputies, or other peace officers to claim a reward offered by a county for apprehending persons wanted for, or charged with, a crime.

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

                                                                 January 17, 1958

Honorable John Panesko
Prosecuting Attorney of Lewis County
Security State Bank Building
Chehalis, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 148

Dear Sir:

            You have asked the opinion of this office on three questions involving an interpretation of RCW 10.85.030.  We have phrased your questions as follows:

            (1) Can the county commissioners offer a reward for "information leading to the arrest and conviction" of a person "suspected" of the commission of a felony where no criminal charge has been filed?

            (2) In such cases, can county funds be expended to print and put up posters offering the reward?

            (3) Is it against public policy for the sheriff or a regular member of his staff to receive a reward so offered?

            We answer the first two questions in the negative and the third in the affirmative.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


            RCW 10.85.030, authorizing the offering of rewards by county commissioners, provides as follows:

            "The county commissioners in the several counties of the state, when in their opinion the public good requires it, are hereby authorized to offer and pay a suitable reward, not to exceed five hundred dollars in any one case, to any person or persons who, in consequence of such offer apprehends, brings back and secures any person or persons, convicted of or charged with any criminal offense, if the offense be a felony."

            (1) It is well established that counties, as instrumentalities of the state, have no powers except those expressly conferred by the constitution and statutes, or which are reasonably or necessarily implied from granted powers; and that county commissioners, as servants of the county, have only those powers which have been expressly delegated to them by specific statutory language or by necessary implications therefrom.  State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court (1940), 2 Wn. (2d) 575.

            The statute in question specifically limits the county commissioners to offering and paying rewards only for apprehending a person "convicted of or charged with" a felony.  Consequently, we find no authority under this statute authorizing the offering of a reward for information leading to the arrest of a person against whom no criminal charge has been filed.  (See also 15 AGO 8 [[1915-16 OAG 8 to R. M. Burgunder, Prosecuting Attorney, Whitman County on January 21, 1915]].) against whom no criminal charge has been filed.  (See also 15 AGO 8.)

            (2) Obviously, since the offering of a reward in such cases is unauthorized, county funds cannot be expended for printing and putting up such posters. County funds can only be expended for a purpose specifically provided by law, and it is incumbent upon officers disbursing such funds to find their authority actually granted by the legislature.  (1905 AGO 3;Abstract Co. v. Anderson, 9 Wash. 349.)

            (3) It is a well-settled principle, based on public policy, that an officer cannot lawfully claim a reward for the performance of a service which it was his duty to discharge.  46 Am. Jur. 114, Rewards, § 17.  Sheriffs and their deputies have a duty, along with other peace officers, to apprehend persons wanted for, or charged with, a crime.  The mere fact that the reward is one authorized  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] by the county, as contrasted to one which may be offered by members of the public, does not change this rule.  It is against public policy for a peace officer to claim a reward for the performance of a duty imposed upon him by law.  (Cf. 1904 AGO 326, AGO 55-57 No. 235.)  That the duties of the sheriff include the apprehension of persons charged with crime is obvious (RCW 36.28.010).  Neither the sheriff nor his deputies may claim any reward offered by the county commissioners under RCW 10.85.030.

            We trust this information will be helpful to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General