Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1951 No. 106 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


Crimes committed aboard Washington ferries are subject to normal criminal arrest by police officers within their respective geographical jurisdiction.

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                                                                 August 23, 1951

Honorable W. A. Bugge
Director of Highways
Transportation Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 106

Dear Sir:

            You request that we describe

            The jurisdiction of the various state police officers over crimes committed on Washington ferries.

            We conclude

            such crimes are committed within the penal jurisdiction of this state.  The powers of the various police officers are governed by the normal geographic jurisdictional rules.


            Each state has the power to regulate and control the navigable waters within its boundaries.  As to navigable waters of the United States, those regulatory powers are subject to the paramount authority of the federal government for the regulation of interstate and foreign commerce.  SeeSands v. Manistee River Improvement Company, 123 U.S. 288, 296 (1887);New Whatcom v. Fairhaven Land Company, 24 Wash. 493, 499 (1901).  State control may not be inconsistent with federal functions, United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19 (1946);United States v. Louisiana, 339 U.S. 699 (1949); United States v.  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] Texas, 339 U.S. 707 (1950); Silas Mason Company v. Tax Commission, 302 U.S. 186;Leovy v. United States, 177 U.S. 621 (1899), or materially or unreasonably interfere with or burden such commerce.  Board of Harbor Line Commissioners v. State (ex rel. Yesler), 2 Wash. 530 (1891),writ of error dism'd, 146 U.S. 646 (1892).  See 11Am.Jur. 20, Commerce ‑ § 20, et seq. 56 Am.Jur. 658, § 196, et seq.

            The criminal jurisdiction of the State of Washington over certain navigable waters was recognized by Congress in the 1853 Organic Act of the Territory of Washington, section 21 of which provides:

            "And be it further enacted.  That the territory of Oregon and the Territory of Washington shall have concurrent jurisdiction over all offenses committed on the Columbia River, where said river forms a common boundary between said Territories."

            Washington has by ferry, navigation, harbor improvement, pilotage, and other regulations, properly assumed jurisdiction over many of the activities which occur on the navigable waters of this state.  SeeManchester v. Massachusetts, 139 U.S. 240, 264 (1890).

            It is stated at 65C.J.S. 63, Navigable Waters, § 10:

            "Unlike the federal government, a state in the regulation of its navigable waters is not limited to regulation for the purpose of navigation and commerce but may regulate and control navigable waters for any purpose within the scope of its sovereign governmental and police powers."

            Benedict on Admiralty, 249, Admiralty in Criminal Law, § 1618, states:

            "Crimes and misdemeanors committed in, on or about vessels in the territorial waters of any state territory or possession of the United States may be dealt with by the local authorities of the state territory or possession, and this is the usual procedure."

            SeeCunard SS Company v. Maloy, 262 U.S. 100 (1923); andPeople v. Stralla, 88 P. (2d) 736, 96 P. (2d) 941 (1939).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            We therefore, conclude that law enforcement officers of the county in which the ferry is located at the time of the commission of a crime, have normal criminal jurisdiction over such crimes.

            Even assuming that the master of an inland ferry has the same authority as the master of a vessel on the high seas, that is, he must act as necessary to the proper completion of the voyage, and the safety of his passengers, crew, cargo and vessel, he is, as any private citizen, subject to law.  He has no authority to prevent or obstruct law enforcement and arrest.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General