Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 215 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


Any person who receives an aid to dependent children grant illegally, may be charged with a violation of Rem. Rev. Stat., § 2601, the general larceny statute.

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                                                                 January 17, 1952

Honorable Hugh H. Evans
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Spokane, Washington                                                                                               Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 215

Attention:  !ttJohn J. Lally, Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your request for an opinion from this office on the following question:

            May a recipient of aid to dependent children who receives public assistance illegally, be charged with a violation of Rem. Rev. Stat., § 2601, the general larceny statute?

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            Any person who receives an aid to dependent children grant illegally, may be charged with a violation of Rem. Rev. Stat., § 2601, the general larceny statute.


            In the case ofState v. Becker, 139 Wash. Dec. 86 [[39 Wn.2d 94]], our Supreme Court held that a person who received old age assistance to which he was not legally entitled, was guilty of a misdemeanor.  In that case the recipient of old age assistance had been charged with grand larceny under the provisions of Rem. Rev. Stat.  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] § 2601, but the court found that such a charge under the general larceny statute was unwarranted in view of the existence of a special law, Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp., § 9998-20, which makes it a mere misdemeanor for a person to receive old age assistance by any false statements or any fraudulent device.

            In view of that case, your question concerns whether or not there is a special statute which takes precedence over the general criminal statute and makes the securing of assistance illegally in the category of aid to dependent children a misdemeanor rather than a felony.  You are specifically concerned with section 3, chapter 289, Laws of 1947, (1947 Rem. Supp., § 10007-117f), which related generally to public assistance and provided that the procuring or attempting to procure any assistance under the act by a person to which he was not entitled was a misdemeanor.  That provision of the law was specifically repealed by section 20, chapter 6, Laws of 1949.

            The statute which the Supreme Court interpreted in State v. Becker, supra, was amended by chapter 17, Laws of 1951, second Ex. Sess.  The act, as amended, now provides that any person who receives old age assistance for which he is not eligible under the provisions of the law is guilty of larceny.  It is to be noted however, that the act relates only to old age assistance and does not change or affect the penalties provided for the illegal receipt of assistance in the other Federal aid categories, such as aid to dependent children, aid to the blind or disability assistance.

            We should like to call your attention to Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp., § 10007-119a, (section 19, chapter 216, Laws of 1939), since there seems to be some question concerning its interpretation.  This act provides for the immediate payment of general assistance to any applicant for any category of public assistance, provided he submits a sworn statement of need and resources.  If, however, upon due investigation the administrator finds that the oath upon which the payment of such emergency general assistance was based was false, the prosecuting attorney can proceed criminally against the individual for a gross misdemeanor.  The act clearly relates only to the payment of emergency general assistance which frequently becomes necessary due to situations which arise when an individual needs money for food, fuel, etc., prior to the time that the ordinary procedure for the verification and checking of information can be completed by the county welfare departments for the payment of assistance in a Federal aid category.  The oath then becomes the basis for criminal or civil action by the prosecuting attorney.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The only other special statute which we can find relates to the subject of false representation in securing public assistance and may be found in Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp., § 10007-13, (section 15, chapter 132, Laws of 1937).  This section makes it a misdemeanor for any person to procure, or attempt to procure, aid to the blind assistance illegally.

            In answer to your question, therefore, we can find no special statute such as the one involved inState v. Becker, supra, or the one relating to the aid to the blind,supra, which would make it merely a misdemeanor or a gross misdemeanor rather than a felony to receive assistance under the category of aid to dependent children, and which would therefore take precedence over the general larceny statute under the rule of statutory interpretation that a special statute controls as opposed to a general statute.

            Accordingly, it is the opinion of this office that illegal payments of aid to dependent children assistance are governed by the general criminal statute, Rem. Rev. Stat., § 2601.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General