Bipartisan legislation introduced this week would reduce the state’s most commonly charged crime – driving while license suspended in the third degree – to a civil infraction.
Senators Joe Fain and David Frockt say Senate Bill 6189 would enable prosecutors to prioritize serious public-safety threats while ensuring that minor infractions do not restrict job and housing opportunities for people who cannot afford to pay traffic fines.
“Allowing prosecutors to focus on addressing the most dangerous public-safety threats like DUIs, distracted driving and aggressive motorists will make our roads and community safer,” said Fain, R-Auburn, whose previous service as a prosecutor in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office concentrated on DUI cases.
“Civil infractions are a much more appropriate way to handle those who do not or cannot pay a ticket for whatever reason. Criminal charges reduce a person’s ability to rent an apartment or be considered for the very job they would need to pay the original fine.”
Failing to pay a traffic ticket or associated late-payment fees typically results in the suspension of a person’s driver license by the state Department of Licensing. A subsequent traffic citation then turns into two charges: the infraction itself, along with the charge known in legal parlance as DWLS III.
“The current law places a heavy burden on Washington residents who already have difficulty playing traffic fines,” said Frockt, D-Seattle. “Criminal charges severely limit a person’s economic future, trapping them in a vicious cycle of unemployment and an inability to reinstate their driver license.
“Prosecuting these people is also expensive for our taxpayers, costing the state more than $42 million in 2015 alone. It’s only right that we treat DWLS III as a civil infraction, not a criminal charge.”
Application of the criminal charge is inconsistent throughout the state, as some municipalities like Seattle and Yakima already tend to treat DWLS III as a civil infraction.
The ACLU Washington report “Driven to Fail: The High Cost of Washington’s Most Ineffective Crime” details the current law’s negative impacts on drivers and voters.
The bipartisan bill is expected to receive a public hearing later this month before the Senate Law and Justice Committee. The Legislature is currently in the third day of 2018’s 60-day legislative session.