Court strikes down licensing
By Sara Jean Green
The state Supreme Court issued
a sweeping ruling yesterday (approximately June 3, 2004
- exact date not given) that could mean thousands of people whose
driver's licenses were suspended won't be prosecuted.
In a 5-4 ruling,
the court struck down two state statutes as
unconstitutional because the laws
don't provide for an administrative
hearing or an appeal procedure and thus
deny individuals due process
guaranteed by the Constitution.
is the state Department of Licensing's (DOL) lack of a formal
appeal process for people whose licenses were suspended
after they didn't
appear in court or pay traffic tickets.
Yesterday, state and city
attorneys were scrambling to understand the
full implications of the ruling.
In Seattle, the ruling could have serious
ramifications - and a huge financial impact - because
of the city's
controversial impound policies, which the City Council
to scrap for drivers cited for third-degree license
Drivers arrested for third-degree license suspensions
typically have their
licenses lifted because they failed to pay tickets for
violations, such as speeding. In contrast, drivers arrested for
second-degree license suspensions are those whose licenses
suspended for being habitual traffic offenders, driving while
reckless driving and other serious traffic offenses.
seems to me that any (third-degree) license suspension in the state
Washington is currently unconstitutional because it doesn't comply
due process," said Donna Tucker, one of two Bellevue attorneys
argued before the Supreme Court to have the statutes struck.
Potential for error
The case was brought
before the Supreme Court after the city of
Redmond sought direct review of a
King County District Court decision
to dismiss charges against two men, Jason
Wilson and Dean Moore, for
driving with suspended licenses.
license was suspended for failing to deal with a speeding
ticket, and Moore's
was lifted for failing to resolve a citation for
driving without liability
insurance. A district-court judge concluded
the suspensions didn't comply
with due process because DOL failed to
provide the opportunity for an
administrative hearing and so dismissed
In writing for
the majority, Justice Richard Sanders said the statutes
"are contrary to the
guaranty of due process because they do not
provide adequate procedural
safeguards to ensure against the erroneous
deprivation of a driver's interest
in the continued use and possession
of his or her driver's
There is substantial potential for error in DOL decisions to
driver's license, especially given that DOL issues some
suspension notices a year based on information from the
Sanders wrote. When a driver receives notice his or her license is
be suspended, the individual has 30 days to resolve the issue in
"He or she is not, however, offered any procedure to contest
suspension other than being instructed by the notice to resolve
matter with the court," Sanders wrote. "The public is left to its
devices to secure a timely hearing from a court to reverse the
before the suspension takes effect."
But in a seven-page dissenting opinion written by
Bridge, four justices argued that just because there's a
error, no evidence was provided to show a pattern of erroneous
The dissenting justices also pointed out that
requiring DOL to give an
administrative hearing to anyone whose license is
require vast public resources for the staff, time and space
"The majority seizes upon the scant record
in these cases to answer a
question that has not been raised by any party and
in so doing
stretches the requirements of due process beyond precedent and
common sense - establishing no clear benefit for the licensees and burdening an
administrative system designed by the Legislature to provide swift determination
for the protection of the motoring public," Bridge wrote.
Anderson, an assistant attorney general who advised DOL on the
case, said his
office is still trying to digest the court's ruling. Because the court struck
down the statutes, it's unlikely DOL can devise an administrative remedy, he
said, adding "it's too early to speculate what legislative remedies are
A Redmond city prosecutor and a DOL spokesman would not
yesterday, both saying they needed more time to analyze the
The impact could be huge for Seattle, which has
seized, towed and held
almost 5,000 vehicles a year from drivers with
suspensions. Roughly 30 percent of those vehicles are
auction because their owners could not pay fees, fines and
charges. But the city doesn't track how many are sold, said
Harper, spokeswoman for the City Attorney's Office.
lawyers believe the city faces potential financial liability for
seized under its Operation Impound program.
"I think a strong argument
can be made that all seizures were unlawful
and drivers deserve compensation.
This would be additional legal basis
for that argument," said Lisa Daugaard,
a public defender and outspoken critic of Seattle's impound law.
number of drivers who might seek compensation, the amount they
might want and
the validity of their claims remain to be seen.
But a very rough estimate
of $10 million in damages is reasonable, said Adam Berger, an attorney who has
brought a class-action lawsuit against the city's former policy, which was in
effect from 2000 to late 2002. After that, police officers exercised discretion
but still impounded the vehicles of 80 percent of the drivers they cited for
third-degree license suspensions.
Berger's estimate is based on the
premise that there could be 10,000
drivers seeking compensation, with claims
of about $1,000 each, on
Meanwhile, impound opponents who
pushed the City Council to dump the controversial impound law in a 6-2 vote two
weeks ago said the court's decision validated their arguments.
welcome decision as far as I'm concerned," said Councilwoman
Jean Godden, who
co-sponsored the ordinance to repeal the impound policy.
Greg Nickels signed the ordinance into law yesterday.
Sara Jean Green:
206-515-5654 or email@example.com. Times staff
reporter Bob Young contributed to this
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Multiple thousands of Christians across this country,
with long-held outstanding driving records, are now being deprived of their
property interest in the renewal (not suspension) of
their driver's licenses purely because of their conscience toward God
regarding Social Security Numbers. The states, without due process, or any
hearing whatsoever, are now proceeding on a newly created "Crime" of
"Driving Without A Social Security Number." It seems that the Social Security
Number has now become more of interest to the state than one's ability to drive
safely. This rule is only being applied to U.S. Citizens, not to
One man, who was harassed and grilled in jail for
a Social Security Number, was deprived of the use of a bathroom purely for
lack of a SSN, forcing him to have to use the floor. He told the police that
even if they placed his head in a guillotine, they could not derive a SSN from
him. However, he did offer to rattle off some random numbers for them if he
could use the bathroom.
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