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Unofficial Opinion 2000-5

Unofficial Opinion 2000-5

March 8, 2000
To: 

Representative
District 109

Re: 

County criminal and traffic ordinance violations are covered by the Peace Officer and Prosecutor Training Fund Act of 1983, O.C.G.A. § 15-21-70 et seq.

You have requested my unofficial opinion concerning whether the Peace Officer and Prosecutor Training Fund Act of 1983, O.C.G.A. § 15-21-70 et seq., requires the magistrate courts of this state to impose additional penalties and bail/bond sums in cases involving violations of county ordinances. Your concern arises due to the fact that the Act does not specifically reference the term “ordinance” in listing the type of violations to which the Act is applicable. It is my unofficial opinion that all cases involving violations of county criminal or traffic ordinances are subject to the provisions of the Act.

The Georgia Constitution authorizes the General Assembly to provide for additional penalties or fees in any case involving “the criminal or traffic laws of this state or an ordinance of a political subdivision of this state.” Ga. Const., Art. III, Sec. IX, Para. VI(h) (emphasis added). Pursuant to that authorization, the General Assembly enacted the Peace Officer and Prosecutor Training Fund Act of 1983 which provides for additional monetary assessments in criminal and traffic cases for the purpose of providing training funds to law enforcement officers and prosecuting officials. O.C.G.A. § 15-21-71. These assessments come in the form of an additional penalty where a fine has been imposed and/or an additional bond or bail amount at the time bond or bail is set. O.C.G.A. § 15-21-73. Specifically, those assessments arise as follows:

(a) (1) In every case in which any state court, probate court, municipal court, magistrate court, or superior court in this state shall impose a fine, which shall be construed to include costs, for any offense against a criminal or traffic law of this state or political subdivision thereof, there shall be imposed as an additional penalty a sum equal to the lesser of $50.00 or 10 percent of the original fine. (2) At the time of posting bail or bond in any case involving a violation of a criminal or traffic law of this state or political subdivision thereof, an additional sum equal to the lesser of $50.00 or 10 percent of the original amount of bail or bond shall be posted. In every case in which any state court, probate court, municipal court, magistrate court, or superior court shall order the forfeiture of bail or bond, the additional sum equal to the lesser of $50.00 or 10 percent of the original bail or bond shall be paid over as provided in Code Section 15-21-74.

O.C.G.A. § 15-12-73 (emphasis added).

Both Subsections above indicate that the assessments are to be made in cases involving the violation of a criminal or traffic law “of this state.” However, both Subsections also apply to a violation of a criminal or traffic law of a “political subdivision thereof.”

Thus, the dispositive question is whether a county is a “political subdivision” of the state. If it is, then cases involving the violation of a county criminal or traffic ordinance are subject to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 15-12-70 et seq. In answering this question, one must look diligently for the intention of the General Assembly. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(a). In so doing, the ordinary signification is to be applied to all words. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b). Where a statute is plain and susceptible of but one reasonable construction, the plain language of the statute is controlling. Hollowell v. Jove, 247 Ga. 678 (1981).

Although the Act at issue contains no statutory definitions, in many other Code sections the General Assembly has consistently defined the term “political subdivision” to include counties. See, e.g., O.C.G.A. § 12-5-282(11) (“means the governing authority of a county”); O.C.G.A. § 28-1-15(b) (“means any county”); O.C.G.A. § 36-44-3(4) (“means any county”); O.C.G.A. § 38-3-50(a)(7) (“means . . . counties”); O.C.G.A. § 47-1-20(4) (“means any county”); O.C.G.A. § 50-5-143(a) (“means any county”). Given the consistency with which the General Assembly has included counties among those entities defined to be political subdivisions of the state, it is apparent that the General Assembly intended counties to be included among those political subdivisions referenced in the Act.

While it is true that O.C.G.A. § 15-12-73 does not specifically use the term “ordinance,” to say omission of that term removes county criminal and traffic ordinances from the scope of the statute would relegate the included phrase “political subdivision thereof” to mere surplusage. Under the rules of statutory construction, meaning must be given “to each part of the statute and to avoid constructions which render a portion of the statute mere surplusage.” DeKalb County v. Post Apartment Homes, 234 Ga. App. 409, 412 (1998).

Therefore, where a magistrate court is handling cases involving the violation of a county criminal or traffic ordinance, it is my unofficial opinion that those cases are subject to the provisions of the Peace Officer and Prosecutor Training Fund Act of 1983.

I trust that the foregoing has been responsive to your inquiry. Please do not hesitate to contact my staff or me if I may be of further assistance in this matter.

Prepared by:

J. JAYSON PHILLIPS
Assistant Attorney General