January 2009 Bar Bulletin
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January 2009 Bar Bulletin


District Court Adds DWLS 3 Re-Licensing Program

By Judge Barbara Linde


Frequently, drivers who accumulate speeding and other traffic infractions also accumulate a long list of unpaid fines and fees owed to district and municipal courts around the state. In Washington, an individual's license to drive will be suspended if the driver fails to pay traffic tickets. When the license is suspended due to unpaid tickets, the driver who continues to drive commits the crime of Driving While License Suspended in the Third Degree (DWLS 3.) Because suspension is frequently due to the offender's inability to pay fines, this offense has earned the nickname "Driving While Poor."

Together with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, King County District Court (KCDC) has created the Re-Licensing Program to deal with DWLS 3 offenses. These offenses make up a significant percentage of the criminal caseload in courts of limited jurisdiction, often comprising roughly 40% of a jurisdiction's criminal filings. KCDC operates a full-service Re-Licensing Program to help individuals become legal, licensed drivers. The program reduces prosecutor and defense attorney costs, as well as jail costs.

The program works in two ways. First, there is a pre-filing diversion component in which participation is triggered, not by a summons, but by an invitation from the prosecutor. Second, there is a "walk-in" component, which requires no new offense and no invitation from the prosecutor to participate.

Pre-filing Diversion of New DWLS: Invitation from Prosecuting Attorney

The pre-filing diversion component requires a decision by the prosecuting attorney to exercise prosecutorial discretion to divert new DWLS 3 or No Valid Operator's License (NVOL) offenses into re-licensing court before filing a criminal charge. The King County Prosecuting Attorney requires that:

  • the participant not have a charge of vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, felony eluding or hit-and-run attended; and
  • no other charge is associated with the DWLS 3 or NVOL.

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