Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1951 No. 434 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


A penal statute which requires a court to consider Federal statutes and regulations as a standard in determining violations thereof is valid.

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

                                                                 January 22, 1951

Charles S. Chester
Director of Aeronautics
Washington State Aeronautics Commission
905 Second Avenue Building
Seattle 4, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 434

Dear Sir:

            You have requested an opinion from this office on the following question:

            Is a penal statute which requires a court to consider Federal statutes and regulations as a standard in determining violations thereof a valid enactment?

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            Such a statute is a valid enactment.


            You have inquired whether section 13 of a Uniform State Aeronautics Commission Act proposed by the Council of State Governments would be a valid amendment to section 22, chapter 165, Laws of 1947 (Rem. Supp. 1947 § 10964102).  Section 13 of the Uniform Act provides as follows:

            "Reckless Operation of Aircraft.  It shall be unlawful for any person to operate an aircraft in the air, or on the ground or water, while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotics, or other habit forming drug, or to operate an aircraft  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] in the air, or on the ground or water, in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.  In any proceeding charging careless or reckless operation of aircraft in violation of this section, the court in determining whether the operation was careless or reckless shall consider the standards for safe operation of aircraft prescribed by federal statutes or regulations governing aeronautics."

            The present law is identical with the proposed amendment with the exception that presently the court "may" consider Federal standards, whereas the amendment provides that the court "shall" consider such standards.  Under the law, as it now stands, the court, at its discretion, may or may not invoke the appropriate Federal statutes or regulations, whereas under the proposed amendment the court is obliged to consider the Federal laws and regulations.  Inasmuch as the distinction is not one which effects the validity of the legislation, the presumption in favor of the validity of any statute would be applicable to the proposed amendment.

            A reference to a law generally governing a particular subject includes not only the law in force at the date of adoption, but also all subsequent laws on the particular subject referred to.  See 50 Am.Jur. 59, Statutes, § 39.  Whether or not an adopting statute which makes such a reference is violative of Amendment VII of the Washington State Constitution, we do not now find it necessary to determine.  Under section 13 of the Uniform Law, the court is obliged only to "consider" the appropriate Federal Statutes.  The standards therein included are, therefore, not controlling.  They simply present a guide to aid the court in deciding whether certain conduct comes within the general prohibition.

            We are of the opinion that a reference statute which adopts such a standard is a valid legislative enactment.  Accordingly, you are advised that section 13 of the Uniform Act would be valid if enacted by the Washington State Legislature.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General