|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: November 24, 2003
Re: Requirements for civil warrant
Dear City Attorney,
You have asked me whether a warrant issued by the municipal judge needs to be sworn to, or if it must contain an affidavit and oath in order to be valid. My initial response in our phone conversation last week was that I believed such warrants should bear an oath, but my research has revealed that oaths and affidavits are not required for civil warrants.
In Clark v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, 827 S.W.2d 312 (Tenn. App. 1991), the Court of Appeals states:
Where a warrant charges only the violation of a city ordinance, it is considered only as a civil process, and the technical nicety of pleading is not required.
Clark, at 315, citing Guidi v. City of Memphis, 263 S.W.2d 532 (Tenn. 1954). In the Clark case, the plaintiff was charged with resisting or interfering with officers, a violation of the metro code, and was cited to the municipal court. Clark challenged the citation on grounds that it contained no oath or affidavit supporting the charge. Metro was allowed to amend the citation, on its own motion, but the Court of Appeals held that such amendment was not necessary, stating:
Civil actions are ordinarily brought in General Sessions Court by a “civil warrant” which includes a designation of the type of action and a notice to appear for trial. With certain exceptions, civil warrants are not required to be supported by affidavit. In lieu of a civil warrant, metropolitan police officers apparently use a “citation” or “ticket” which serves as a civil warrant. As such, it is not required to be supported by affidavit, either at the time of service or at trial.
Clark, at 315.
This language is consistent with the earlier Supreme Court opinion Guidi v. City of Memphis, 263 S.W.2d 532 (Tenn. 1953). Mr. Guidi was arrested on a warrant issued by the clerk of the city court of Memphis, which charged him with violating the city ordinance by exceeding the speed limit. Mr. Guidi appealed his conviction for violation of the city speeding ordinance by challenging the warrant issued by the city clerk. The Tennessee Supreme Court found the warrant to be sufficient, stating:
It was decided by this Court well nigh a hundred years ago that a proceeding for the violation of a municipal ordinance is not a criminal prosecution but a civil action. [citations omitted]
* * *In the case at bar the offense charged in the warrant, if any, is denounced only by ordinance of the city. It results that we must consider the assailed warrant only as a civil process.
* * *Moreover our own cases as well as many from foreign jurisdictions, support the proposition that the technical nicety of pleading is not required in a warrant charging the violation of a municipal ordinance. [citations omitted]. The only requirement is that the accused be given reasonable notice of the nature of the ordinance alleged to have been violated.
Guidi, at 536. In City of Nashville v. Baker, 73 S.W.2d 169 (Tenn. 1934), the Supreme Court ruled that it does not matter if the city ordinance violation charged also constitutes a violation of state law. Mr. Baker was charged with violating an ordinance by possessing and transporting liquor within the city limits, and he challenged the warrant due to the absence of an oath. The Court states:
Is it essential that a prosecution for violation of a city ordinance be begun by a warrant issued on oath of some person? This rule, applicable where the prosecution is for violation of a state criminal statute, does not apply to a proceeding brought by a city for violation of its ordinances, and this is true even though the offense may be, as in the case as bar, prohibited by both city ordinance and state law.
Baker, at 169.
Based on this research, I have concluded that, in general, a warrant for violation of a city ordinance is not required to be supported by affidavit or oath. Such warrant must only provide notice of the ordinance alleged to have been violated, and should state the date and time on which the matter will be heard in municipal court.
Please note, however, that some city ordinances are based on statutes requiring that an affidavit or oath appear on the warrant, so read your ordinances carefully and review any statute cited in ordinances to be sure there is no state law requirement attached to the enforcement of that ordinance.
I hope this information is helpful. Please feel free to contact me should you need further assistance in this matter.
Thank you for consulting with MTAS.
Melissa A. Ashburn