J.A.I.L. News Journal
______________________________________________________
Los Angeles, California                                                    June 6, 2004


Court strikes down licensing laws
By Sara Jean Green
Seattle Times Eastside Bureau

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.

At issue is the state Department of Licensing's (DOL) lack of a formal
hearing or 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 recently voted
to scrap for drivers cited for third-degree license suspensions.

Drivers arrested for third-degree license suspensions typically have their
licenses lifted because they failed to pay tickets for minor traffic
violations, such as speeding. In contrast, drivers arrested for first- and
second-degree license suspensions are those whose licenses were
suspended for being habitual traffic offenders, driving while intoxicated,
reckless driving and other serious traffic offenses.

"It seems to me that any (third-degree) license suspension in the state of
Washington is currently unconstitutional because it doesn't comply with
due process," said Donna Tucker, one of two Bellevue attorneys who
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.

Wilson's 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
the charges.

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 license."

There is substantial potential for error in DOL decisions to revoke a
driver's license, especially given that DOL issues some 300,000
suspension notices a year based on information from the courts,
Sanders wrote. When a driver receives notice his or her license is to
be suspended, the individual has 30 days to resolve the issue in court.

"He or she is not, however, offered any procedure to contest the
suspension other than being instructed by the notice to resolve the
matter with the court," Sanders wrote. "The public is left to its own
devices to secure a timely hearing from a court to reverse the error
before the suspension takes effect."

Burden on DOL

But in a seven-page dissenting opinion written by Justice Bobbe
Bridge, four justices argued that just because there's a potential for
error, no evidence was provided to show a pattern of erroneous license
suspensions.

The dissenting justices also pointed out that requiring DOL to give an
administrative hearing to anyone whose license is suspended would
require vast public resources for the staff, time and space to conduct
such hearings.

"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.

Gerald 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 possible."

A Redmond city prosecutor and a DOL spokesman would not comment
yesterday, both saying they needed more time to analyze the decision.

Financial impact

The impact could be huge for Seattle, which has seized, towed and held
almost 5,000 vehicles a year from drivers with third-degree license
suspensions. Roughly 30 percent of those vehicles are scheduled for
auction because their owners could not pay fees, fines and storage
charges. But the city doesn't track how many are sold, said Kathryn
Harper, spokeswoman for the City Attorney's Office.

Some lawyers believe the city faces potential financial liability for
vehicles 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.

The 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
average.

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.

"It's a welcome decision as far as I'm concerned," said Councilwoman
Jean Godden, who co-sponsored the ordinance to repeal the impound policy.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels signed the ordinance into law yesterday.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or
sgreen@seattletimes.com. Times staff
reporter Bob Young contributed to this report.

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 foreigners.
 
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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"..it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.." - Samuel Adams
 
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