In Washington, having a driver’s license is considered by some courts to be a “privilege” and others to be an important “property right.” However it is viewed, it’s clear according to statutory law and case law that depriving you of your driver’s license or privilege to drive in Washington must comport with “due process” protections under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits a State from depriving any person of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Part of this means that a driver cannot be convicted of driving while his or her license is suspended or revoked if the suspension or revocation violates due process.
Due process is a misleading term in the context of your license in Washington. The “opportunity to be heard” before the Department of Licensing is a limited chance to plead your case, and involves only a small number of issues. What’s more, the “judge” in that hearing is an employee of the very institution seeking to suspend your privilege to drive.
The term “suspension” of a Washington license refers to an action to take your license away for less than one year. The term “revocation” applies to an action to take your license away for a year or more. For more information about the different types of suspensions of your driver’s license, click here.
Out of State Suspensions
Contrary to what some think, you can lose your “privilege” to drive in a state even if you have never obtained a license in that state. Say you live in Oregon and get into trouble in Washington. If your trouble results in a license suspension by the Washington DOL, you can no longer drive in Washington until your license is reinstated by the Washington DOL. What makes things more complicated to interstate travelers is that a suspension in one state is often honored in another state. Most states belong to an “Interstate Compact” which requires a suspension in another state to apply to the license of a person in their home state. In Washington, if your privilege to drive is suspended or revoked, Washington will notify the state where you currently have a driver’s license. In many situations, that state will then suspend your license as if you had that same trouble in Washington. Also, if Washington discovers from another state that you were convicted of an offense that would suspend your license if it happened in Washington, you will suffer the same license consequence. This is sometimes (but not always) the case with administrative suspensions between different states.
Recourse for Erroneous Suspensions/Revocations
If you fail to challenge an unlawful suspension or revocation (e.g. you fail to send in a timely request for a hearing to contest the suspension or revocation through your own error), you virtually guarantee that you have no recourse. However, if you have asked for a hearing and lost the hearing, you can appeal the suspension to the Superior Courts of Washington, in the county where the license suspension action stemmed from (e.g. the county where a traffic stop occurred, etc.).
We’ve had years of experience addressing the morass of licensing actions for our clients, and have successfully defended against many civil suspensions, and have successfully won appeals of various legal issues when the Department of Licensing commits an error of law.