Washington Driver License Revocation Under RCW 46.20.285(4)

Under RCW 46.20.285, a Washington driver license must be revoked upon conviction of certain offenses.  The statute requires the Department of Licensing to revoke the driver license when conviction of one of the listed offenses becomes final.  A defendant recently challenged his judgment and sentence, arguing the court had applied the wrong version of the statute.

The appeals court obtained the details of what occurred from the affidavit of probable cause.  It stated the defendant and another person took fragrances from a beauty store without paying.  The store manager described the individuals and the vehicle they left in to police.  An officer stopped a car matching that description.  He saw several fragrance boxes in the floor and the back seat passenger had store alarm sensors in their lap.  The defendant reached a plea agreement with the state and  entered a guilty plea on one count of possession of stolen property in the second degree.

The only disputed issue at the sentencing hearing was whether the court should find that the vehicle was used in commission of the offense, leading to suspension of the defendant’s driver license for one year, pursuant to RCW 46.20.285(4).

The state argued the stolen property was on the floor of the vehicle. The defendant argued the vehicle was not a necessary part of the crime but just a “mode of transportation.” He pointed out the items were not hidden inside the vehicle.

The trial court found the vehicle had been used in commission of the offense. It imposed a residential Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (“DOSA”), with certain conditions and a $500 victim penalty assessment.  Preprinted language in the judgment and sentence required the defendant to pay community custody supervision fees.

The defendant appealed. He argued that RCW 46.20.285(4) had been amended and the trial court abused its discretion by failing to apply the amended version of the statute and its finding was therefore erroneous.

Before it was amended, RCW 46.20.285(4) provided that a driver license would be revoked for “[a]ny felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used.” The current statute, however, changed this subsection to apply only to felonies where “a motor vehicle was used in a manner that endangered persons or property.”

The appeals court noted that the plain language of the statute required revocation of a driver license only upon conviction of a felony where the court found a vehicle was used in a manner endangering persons or property in the commission of the felony.

The appeals court noted the trial court did not seem to be aware of the change.  In fact, the trial court acknowledged concerns with revoking a license “based on offenses like this where driving itself doesn’t create a danger to the public.” The trial court went on, however, to “find that the motor vehicle was used in the commission of the offense.”

The state conceded the trial court applied the former version of the statute, but argued the issue was not ripe for review because the defendant’s license had not yet been suspended.  Alternatively, the state argued that what the Department of Licensing would do with the finding under the previous version of the statute was “pure speculation and conjecture. . .”  The appeals court disagreed, however, noting that the statute requires the Department of Licensing to revoke the license upon receiving record of conviction of one of the listed offenses.

The appeals court also noted that remedial sentencing statutes are generally enforced when they become effective under Washington case law, rejecting the state’s argument that the prior version of the statute should apply because it was in effect at the time of the crime.

The appeals court concluded the trial court abused its discretion by not applying the current version of the statute.  The appeals court also found in favor of the defendant with regard to his challenges to the community custody supervision fees and victim penalty assessment, due to the defendant’s indigence.

The appeals court reversed and remanded to the trial court to correct its RCW 46.20.285(4) finding and strike the community custody fees and the victim penalty assessment.

If you are facing criminal charges, a skilled Washington criminal defense attorney can fight to protect your rights.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to discuss your case.


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