Driving while license suspended in Seattle is treated as a very serious offense. And it makes sense why. The thinking is that if you are driving while your license has been suspended you must have done something that a responsible driver wouldn’t do, and you should be off the road.

As a Seattle traffic lawyer I often deal with people who are charged with driving while their license is suspended, and one common theme seems to abound – nobody thinks its a big deal. And that would be okay, if it wasn’t a big deal. But it is. And jail time is a possibility if the problem is not taken care of.

Driving While License Suspended | The Law

Driving while license suspended is controlled by RCW 46.20.342. That statute recognizes three basic levels of driving while license suspended.

Driving While License Suspended 3rd Degree

The lowest level is third degree driving while license suspended, and it is punishable as a misdemeanor, meaning you could spend up to a 90 days in jail and receive up to a $1,000 fine. The language of that statute reads:

    A person who violates this section when his or her driver’s license or driving privilege is, at the time of the violation, suspended or revoked solely because:

      (i) the person must furnish proof of satisfactory progress in a required alcoholism or drug treatment program;

      (ii) the person must furnish proof of financial responsibility for the future as provided by chapter 46.29 RCW;

      (iii) the person has failed to comply with the provisions of chapter 46.29 RCW relating to uninsured accidents;

      (iv) the person has failed to respond to a notice of traffic infraction, failed to appear at a requested hearing, violated a written promise to appear in court, or has failed to comply with the terms of a notice of traffic infraction or citation, as provided in RCW 46.20.289;

      (v) the person has committed an offense in another state that, if committed in this state, would not be grounds for the suspension or revocation of the person’s driver’s license;

      (vi) the person has been suspended or revoked by reason of one or more of the items listed in (b) of this subsection, but was eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license or driving privilege at the time of the violation; or

      (vii) the person has received traffic citations or notices of traffic infraction that have resulted in a suspension under RCW 46.20.267 relating to intermediate drivers’ licenses;

      or any combination of (i) through (vii);

    is guilty of driving while license suspended or revoked in the third degree, a misdemeanor.

Driving While License Suspended 2nd Degree

The next level of driving while license suspended is second degree. It is punishable as a gross misdemeanor, meaning you could face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Additionally, you could face a prolonged driver’s license suspension.

The language of that statute reads:

    A person who violates this section while an order of suspension or revocation prohibiting such operation is in effect and while the person is not eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license or driving privilege, other than for a suspension for the reasons described in (c) of this subsection, is guilty of driving while license suspended or revoked in the second degree, a gross misdemeanor. This subsection applies when a person’s driver’s license or driving privilege has been suspended or revoked by reason of:

      (i) A conviction of a felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle was used;

      (ii) A previous conviction under this section;

      (iii) A notice received by the department from a court or diversion unit as provided by RCW 46.20.265, relating to a minor who has committed, or who has entered a diversion unit concerning an offense relating to alcohol, legend drugs, controlled substances, or imitation controlled substances;

      (iv) A conviction of RCW 46.20.410, relating to the violation of restrictions of an occupational or a temporary restricted driver’s license;

      (v) A conviction of RCW 46.20.345, relating to the operation of a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked license;

      (vi) A conviction of RCW 46.52.020, relating to duty in case of injury to or death of a person or damage to an attended vehicle;

      (vii) A conviction of RCW 46.61.024, relating to attempting to elude pursuing police vehicles;

      (viii) A conviction of RCW 46.61.500, relating to reckless driving;

      (ix) A conviction of RCW 46.61.502 or 46.61.504, relating to a person under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs;

      (x) A conviction of RCW 46.61.520, relating to vehicular homicide;

      (xi) A conviction of RCW 46.61.522, relating to vehicular assault;

      (xii) A conviction of RCW 46.61.527(4), relating to reckless endangerment of roadway workers;

      (xiii) A conviction of RCW 46.61.530, relating to racing of vehicles on highways;

      (xiv) A conviction of RCW 46.61.685, relating to leaving children in an unattended vehicle with motor running;

      (xv) A conviction of RCW 46.61.740, relating to theft of motor vehicle fuel;

      (xvi) A conviction of RCW 46.64.048, relating to attempting, aiding, abetting, coercing, and committing crimes;

      (xvii) An administrative action taken by the department under chapter 46.20 RCW; or

      (xviii) A conviction of a local law, ordinance, regulation, or resolution of a political subdivision of this state, the federal government, or any other state, of an offense substantially similar to a violation included in this subsection.

Driving While License Suspended 1st Degree

Finally, the most serious level of driving while license suspended is first degree driving while license suspended. It too is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. And, like second degree driving while under the influence, your driving privileges will be suspended, and for a longer period of time (in some cases even permanently). If you are charged with DWLS first degree, you should hire a traffic lawyer immediately. They can at least help you minimize the damage. The first degree DWLS statute reads:

    A person found to be an habitual offender under chapter 46.65 RCW, who violates this section while an order of revocation issued under chapter 46.65 RCW prohibiting such operation is in effect, is guilty of driving while license suspended or revoked in the first degree, a gross misdemeanor.

    Upon the first such conviction, the person shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than ten days. Upon the second conviction, the person shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than ninety days. Upon the third or subsequent conviction, the person shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one hundred eighty days. If the person is also convicted of the offense defined in RCW 46.61.502 or 46.61.504, when both convictions arise from the same event, the minimum sentence of confinement shall be not less than ninety days. The minimum sentence of confinement required shall not be suspended or deferred. A conviction under this subsection does not prevent a person from petitioning for reinstatement as provided by RCW 46.65.080.

Bottom line, if your license is suspended, the worst thing you can do is drive and get caught driving without a driver’s license. Not only does it count as a misdemeanor conviction on your criminal history, but you could lose your driving privileges even more.

Fighting a Driving While License Suspension Charge

If we know anything about the Washington Department of Licensing, it is that they sometimes make mistakes. For example, I had someone call recently looking for a traffic lawyer to help them with their charge. She had been recently pulled over for DWLS and had no idea why. Turns out, her car tabs had expired, she’d received a ticket for it and not paid, her license had been suspended, and when she went to pay the ticket, her paperwork was lost and her license was never reinstated. When they sent the notice out, she had recently moved, and the notice never reached her. But that hasn’t stopped the prosecutor for trying to prosecute her for it.

Certainly the fact that she was driving with a valid license but for the Washington Department of Licensing losing it is an important fact in this specific case. And it is one that may provide her with a defense the prosecution will consider in reducing or dismissing the charges. But either way, she is out her time and the expense of hiring a Seattle traffic attorney to help her on the case.

About Me: Christopher Small is not just a bad ass traffic lawyer with Emerald City Traffic Defense. He’s also a great criminal lawyer, DUI lawyer, and personal injury lawyer. If you need help in any of these areas, call 206.651.4245.