Have you received a Washington administrative license suspension following a Washington State DUI arrest and wanted to appeal but didn’t because you would have to give up the option of driving on an Ignition Interlock License (IIL)? In 2008, the Legislature passed a statute (RCW 46.20.385(1)(b)) that forced drivers to choose between appealing a bad ruling by a DOL Hearing Examiner and driving on an IIL during the suspension period. Under this scheme, appealing an erroneous decision meant, in most cases, that those drivers had no ability to drive whatsoever during the suspension, whereas drivers who did not challenge the suspension were able to use the IIL.
Fortunately, this grossly unfair disparity was challenged and the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that the DOL’s system was unlawful. Nielsen vs. Department of Licensing, 177 Wash. App. 45 (2013), argued by attorney Ryan B. Robertson, held that the statute was unconstitutional because it deprived drivers of meaningful access to judicial review of administrative suspension. In other words, it was unreasonable to burden a driver’s ability to appeal a license suspension by forcing them to forgo the benefit of using an IIL.
This development was an important step in securing drivers’ rights and protecting procedural fairness. The problem now is that the statute itself has not yet been changed, so it still suggests that obtaining an IIL will result in a waiver of the right to appeal an adverse decision. Thus there is still some public confusion about drivers’ rights following an administrative suspension ruling. For additional information, consulting an attorney who handles DUI defense in Washington can help clarify your individual circumstances.
The Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) has a reputation for being deceptive in its correspondence with drivers, and rightfully so. One of the biggest sources of confusion stems from the Notices of Suspension issued by DOL in the event of a conviction or an administrative action stemming from a DUI arrest. Far from a “model of clarity,” these Washington licenses suspension notices do not include many important details, including the fact that a driver may be eligible to obtain an ignition interlock license (IIL), which would enable them to drive during the suspension period. Also absent is any information as to what the qualifications are for an IIL, or instructions on how to obtain one.
Thus, many drivers don’t even realize that they can use an IIL to drive during a period of license suspension. Although the law provides this option, drivers relying solely on the written notice from DOL would never know it exists.
Similarly, the notices of suspension following conviction do not include an itemized list of what an individual driver must do to reinstate his/her driving privileges. For example, the DOL’s letter may refer to an interlock device and proof of financial responsibility in general, but fails to detail the length of such requirements and doesn’t mention such items as when re-testing is mandated and/or when proof of compliance with required treatment is necessary.
The moral of this story is that correspondence produced by the Department of Licensing is often not complete, and drivers should make their own inquiries to determine their eligibility for driving options and reinstatement.
We get a lot of phone calls from people trying to figure out how to get their driving privileges back in the event of a Washington State license suspension following a DUI arrest, or similar charge. A lot of confusion stems from a lack of understanding about the difference between what can be done during a license suspension versus what should happen after the suspension period is over.
During any period of license suspension resulting from an alcohol related arrest (whether the suspension is the result of an administrative action or a conviction in court), the only means by which a person can drive is by using the Ignition Interlock License. This requires three steps: 1) provide proof of financial responsibility (usually by way of SR-22 insurance), 2) provide proof of installation of the device, and 3) mail in the IIL application form with the required $100.00 fee (there is no indigency waiver option for the application fee). The insurance and interlock companies will send proof directly to DOL, so the driver need only mail the application and fee. Please keep in mind that DOL will not process the application until the driver’s record reflects proof of the insurance and interlock.
After the period of suspension is over, the driver may be eligible to reinstate driving privileges, which means getting a new plastic license, but there may be conditions attached. For example, for a person convicted of driving under the influence, an ignition interlock device requirement may follow a suspension period. Also, proof of completion of the alcohol assessment and compliance with recommended treatment is also required as a condition of reinstatement (*** this is not required for using the IIL during the suspension period). A driver may also have to re-test in order to reinstate, even if they have continued to operate a vehicle using the IIL during a license suspension. The DOL imposes a re-testing requirement for any suspension that is longer than 90 days in length, regardless of whether or not the person remains driving with the IIL during the suspension.
Hopefully this brief summary helps clear up some confusion for drivers facing a suspension (during which they can use the IIL) and/or needing to reinstate after a suspension (which can require the interlock device, re-testing, reinstatement fees, and/or proof of treatment compliance).
Many people understand that a conviction in Washington State for vehicular homicide or vehicular assault will come with a license suspension. What most folks don’t know, however, is that the license suspension does not begin until after any period of confinement is completed. In essence, the Department of Licensing will not allow a license suspension to run while the person is presumably not driving since he/she is in custody.
When someone is convicted of vehicular homicide or vehicular assault, the court sends a notice to the Dept. of Licensing containing the details of the sentence, including the length of confinement. This information is what the DOL uses to compute the start date for the suspension. For example, if someone is given a sentence of 90 days in jail, the license suspension (whatever its length) will not begin until at least ninety days have passed. The problem is that this system does not account for early release credit, or “good time.” The DOL has no way of knowing what the actual release date is for an individual, so it works on the assumption that everyone always serves the complete terms of confinement.
This means that drivers must take affirmative action to inform DOL of their actual release date, so that the suspension commencement can be re-adjusted. This can be done by providing the Department of Corrections Order of Release to the mandatory suspension unit at DOL. This can be particularly important for people transferred to a work release facility who are eligible to obtain an ignition interlock license for driving during the suspension period.
Sometimes, a person convicted for a vehicular homicide or vehicular assault offense is sentenced to a term on confinement but permitted to serve the entire period on work release. If the court does not properly note this on the abstract of conviction that it sends to the court, then DOL will assume the sentence is for total confinement. Therefore, it is very important to ensure that the report of conviction accurately reflects the court’s sentence and that drivers follow up with documentation upon their release from confinement.
The State of Washington emphasizes alcohol treatment when necessary in connection with a Washington state or Seattle DUI arrest or conviction. However, it is not well known that even in the absence of a DUI conviction or a DUI arrest, the DOL will not issue a license to an individual who has been classified as an alcoholic or an alcohol abuser.