Having a Washington suspended license can mean a criminal charge and jail time if you are caught driving. It is called driving with license suspended, and is by far the most common crime in Washington State. Having a Washington suspended license can happen for any number of reasons. The most common are:
- Unpaid traffic tickets
- Suspended as a result of a criminal conviction (e.g, reckless driving, DUI)
- Suspended as a result of administrative suspension (e.g. DUI)
- Failure to be properly reinstate your license after a license suspension (not paying the reinstatement fee or retaking the driving test)
- Being involved in an accident without having insurance
- Being a habitual traffic offender
Washington Suspended License Categories
The crime of driving with a Washington suspended license (also called driving with license suspended, or DWLS) is broken up into three (3) categories.
Driving With License Suspended 3rd Degree
DWLS 3rd, as it is often called, is the least serious of the three. It is a simple misdemeanor and carries a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine, though it rarely results in jail time for the vast majority of people. Your license is suspend in the 3rd degree if you have unpaid traffic tickets or are eligible to reinstate (but haven’t reinstated yet) your driving privileges after being suspended for a criminal charge (DUI, reckless driving, etc). The best thing you can do if you are stopped for DWLS 3rd is get your license back immediately. If you cannot afford to pay off your traffic tickets, some counties have relicensing programs where they will pull your tickets out of collections and allow you to do work crew or make payments in order to satisfy the monetary obligations. If you can reinstate your Washington suspended license quickly, many prosecutors in Washington State and around the Puget Sound won’t file criminal charges; others will amend the criminal charge to a traffic infraction. However, some prosecutors are not so generous and will insist on taking Washington suspended license cases to trial and even ask for jail time. An experienced attorney should be able to help you navigate this process.
Driving With License Suspend 2nd Degree
DWLS 2nd is much more serious than DWLS 3rd. It is a gross misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail and a $5000 fine. There are no mandatory minimum penalties and most people convicted of DWLS 2nd don’t receive jail time. However, jail time is a possibility, especially if you have a poor driving record. A conviction for DWLS 2nd does carry an additional year license suspension beyond the Washington license suspension you are already serving. The only way to avoid the suspension is to 1) have your license back at the time of the sentencing and 2) the judge recommend against re-suspension. Most people end up with a DWLS 2nd charge as a result of a prior criminal case. If your license is suspended because of a DUI, reckless driving, hit and run, or felony driving crimes, then your license is suspended in the 2nd degree. In certain cases, you may be eligible for a restricted license that will allow you to drive during your Washington license suspension. But if you drive without the restricted license and are caught, you will most certainly be charged with DWLS 2nd. In addition, a DWLS 2nd charge is very likely to be a violation of your probationary conditions. If you find yourself in this situation, you absolutely need the help of an attorney to help avoid any additional Washington license suspension and possible mandatory jail time on the probation violation.
Driving With License Suspended 1st Degree
DWLS 1st is much less common, but the consequences are significant. It is a gross misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail and $5000 fine. If you are convicted, there is mandatory 10 days in jail for the first offense, 90 days of jail for a second offense and 180 days for a third offense. Some judges allow this mandatory jail time be served on electronic home monitoring, but others make you sit in jail. You can only receive a DWLS 1st if you have been deemed a habitual traffic offender by the Dept, of Licensing and had your license suspended for seven (7) years.
Prevention is always the best medicine. Only drive if you have a valid drivers license. If you have any doubt about the validity of your drivers license or think you might have a Washington suspended license, then you should not drive until you are certain your license is clear. The first step is to check with the Dept. of Licensing. They now provide an online tool for checking your license. If you having a Washington suspended license and are charged with a crime, you need to get it reinstated as quickly as possible. The DOL has a free tool that tells you what you need to do reinstate your license. If you still have more questions, a driving abstract will provide more information about why your license is suspended and when you will be able to reinstate. Finally, a discussion with an attorney can help clarify what you need to do. Having a Washington suspended license need not end in a criminal charge. Take reasonable precautions, get reinstated as soon possible if you are suspended, and talk to an attorney if you are charged with driving with license suspended. At P&L, we have one of the only Dept. of Licensing specialists in the Washington State, so we are equipped to deal with even the trickiest of licensing problems.