Displaying items by tag: Driving While License Suspended

Most crimes at the misdemeanor / gross misdemeanor do not have “sentencing guidelines” like crimes do at the felony level. Driving While License Suspended in the First Degree (or Habitual Traffic Offender Status) is one of the few exceptions to the rule. For a conviction, the punishment is harsh and escalates rapidly for each offense. DWLS 1 has by far the most severe mandatory sentencing for any crime at this level.

A person is designated a Habitual Traffic Offender by:

1) Accumulating three major traffic offenses within 5 years. (major traffic offenses are DUI, Reckless Driving, Hit and Run, Driving With A Suspended License, Eluding, Vehicular Assault, and Vehicular Homicide), or
2) Accumulating twenty driving infractions within 5 years.

The Department of Licensing determined the 5 year period based on the violation date and not the date of conviction.

Loss Of Driving Privilege


Being designated a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) in Washington State can have devastating consequences to you. There is mandatory jail time for those who violate the driving restrictions and there is a lengthy restriction period of 7 years. During this period, the person may not drive. There is no occupational, restricted, ignition interlock, or other alternative licensing options. This suspension is set by the Department of Licensing and is separate from any other driving penalties set by a court due to a criminal conviction.

There are only a few options to restore your license following a HTO designation.

1) You do not drive for the entire 7 years and then you follow the protocol as designated by the DOL to reinstate your license. You must take proactive steps as your license is not automatically valid after the 7 years.
2) Petition for a early reinstatement 4 years after you were first designated a HTO. The details are below. If you are successful with this petition, you may still need to comply with extra conditions such as an ignition interlock on your vehicle and carry SR-22 (high risk) insurance.
3) Seek a stay on your revocation based on your alcohol or drug dependency. This can only be done after you have completed a 2 year treatment program and you meet other conditions of the review. You will be on “probation” for the remainder of the 7 year HTO period but, if you keep an ignition interlock and high risk insurance, you will be able to restore your driving privilege.

Reinstatement Hearings


According to the Department of Licensing, you may qualify for a reinstatement hearing if:

1) You have been designated HTO for at least 4 years,
2) There is no evidence that you have driven within the past 2 years,
3) If you had conditions regarding alcohol or drug treatment, you have met all of those requirements,
4) You are not suspended for non-compliance with your treatment,
5) At least one year has passed since any previous reinstatement requested have been denied.

Additionally, if your license has been suspended for other issues such as unpaid fines, there may be other conditions (such as payment of fines or child support) that you must comply with before you can seek to have your license reinstated.

Drug and Alcohol Dependency


You may qualify for a “stay” on your revocation if you meet certain conditions. At your DOL hearing, you would need proof that you have been assessed “substance dependent,” you have completed a treatment program and are compliant, you are not in HTO status for violating a previous stay or probation, and the offenses leading up to your revocation were due to alcoholism or drug addiction.

Consequences of Conviction


Each progressive conviction for DWLS 1 has exponentially harsher minimum sentences. For the 1st offense, the minimum is 10 days. The 2nd offense carries a minimum sentence of 90 days, and the 3rd offense has a minimum of not less than 180 days in jail These are charges not to be taken lightly.

If you are facing a designation of Habitual Traffic Offender, it is critical that you seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Occasionally, there may be a challenge to the validity of the designation but time is of the essence.

Do not ignore the warnings by the Department of Licensing or drive once you are notified of the designation. Even if you believe it to be inaccurate, you do not want to compound the problem with additional criminal charges. At Witt Law Group, we offer free consultations. If you are unsure of how to proceed, give our office a call.

Published in Witt Law Group Blog

The charge of Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) is one of the most common criminal charges in the State of Washington. The reason for the volume of charging has to do with the fact that it is fairly easy to be charged with this offense.

There are three levels of DWLS. The level of DWLS depends on variables such as the reason your license was suspended in the first place, whether you made a mistake in trying to reinstate your license (assuming you were permitted to reinstate), whether you have been determined to be a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO), and the nature of the crime (or just fines) that lead to the original suspension.

The following are the degrees of DWLS according the Revised Code of Washington:

First Degree DWLS

A person can be charged with First Degree Driving While License Suspended if they were caught driving after their license was suspended for being a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO). A driver can be determined HTO by the Department of Licensing if they have 3 major traffic convictions such as vehicular assault, DUI, Hit and Run, DWLS 2 (there are others) or a combination of 20 separate traffic infractions, within a 5 year period. If you are convicted of DWLS 1, you face a mandatory jail sentence of up to 364 days in jail, a $5,000 fine, and new 7 year period of HTO suspension.

Second Degree DWLS

The primary differences between DWLS 2 and DWLS 1 are: (1) the person charged with DWLS 2 has not been suspended for being a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO), (2) unlike DWLS 1, the person charged with DWLS 2 does not face a mandatory jail sentence. The person charged with DWLS 2 has been suspended due to a criminal conviction or an administrative finding (not HTO and not just due to unpaid fines). The crime of DWLS Second Degree is a gross misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. You may also face additional license suspension.

The most common way a person is charged with DWLS 2 is by violating a condition of probation on a previous crime. For example, if you were convicted of a DUI or have entered into a PDA for that DUI, you have certain conditions regarding your driving. You may not be able to drive or you might have an Ignition Interlock License. If you are caught driving outside of the permitted conditions (not using the ignition interlock or failing to get the ignition interlock license), you have committed a probation violation. As a side note, in addition to the new charge of DWLS 2, you are likely going to face a Motion To Revoke on the previous criminal charge if you are on a PDA. If this is your situation, you need to contact your criminal defense attorney immediately. You will have two separate pending criminal charges, which may be in separate jurisdictions.

Third Degree DWLS

This charge happens when a person is driving after their license has been suspended due to unpaid fines. The fines or costs can be due to unpaid traffic tickets, child support, or improperly reinstating your license. The last issue comes up when you fail to do all of the proper procedures necessary after you become eligible to reinstate your license. This criminal charge is a misdemeanor and is the least serious of the three degrees of Driving With License Suspended.

To learn how these charges will impact your past or existing criminal charges, contact our office for a free consultation. While DWLS is the most common criminal charge, the resolutions can vary significantly and dealing with the problem early is your best bet. Some counties and cities have options for you to pull unpaid fines out of collects and qualify for a relicensing program. To learn if that is an option for you, contact us immediately.

To learn more about the charge of Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO), CLICK HERE.

Published in Witt Law Group Blog