Those who have suffered multiple DUI or other forms of criminal traffic suspensions in the State of Washington, or who simply have acquired a multitude of civil traffic citations understand that a lengthy habitual traffic offender designation and license suspension can be a surprise consequence. I say “surprise” because more often than not they are not informed of the HTO suspension at the resolution of the criminal case. Notice comes in the form of a letter from the Washington Department of Licensing weeks, if not months, after the final conviction or civil finding. People in this situation also usually don’t realize three important things. 1) They have the right to contest this revocation. 2) They may qualify for a “stay” of the revocation. And 3) Even after a valid revocation where a stay does not apply, they may be entitled to early reinstatement.
CHALLENGING AN HTO REVOCATION
An HTO suspension falls into two categories. The first applies to the individual who has been convicted of three separate “major” traffic convictions and whose incident dates fall within five years of one another. DUI, Physical Control, Reckless Driving, Hit and Run of an Attended Vehicle, Driving on a Suspended License in the First or Second Degree (DWLS 1 or 2) and various Felony Traffic convictions, all constitute major offenses. The second category applies to those who have compiled 20 or more civil moving violations (i.e. speeding, running a stop sign, improper lane travel, etc.), also over a five year period. In either situation, if proven, the DOL will revoke that person’s privilege to drive in the State of Washington for a period of seven (7) years.
Once the DOL has been notified of the last incident in the series, it will send out a notice of revocation and the intent to revoke that person as a habitual traffic offender for the seven year period. In that notice, the driver will be informed of his/her right to challenge the action. That challenge must be received within 15 days of the date of notice . This is vital for if the challenge is not made within that 15 day window, it will be deemed untimely so long as the revocation notice was sent to the driver’s address of record.
If the challenge is made within the proper time frame then there would be a hearing to determine whether the DOL has lawful authority to revoke. In other words, whether there were the requisite number of convictions/findings. In the situation where the revocation is predicated on three criminal convictions, the odds of prevailing at this hearing can be long. The DOL usually (but not always) has proof of these convictions. Still, it doesn’t hurt to request the hearing as the DOL has been known to (often) make mistakes. In the situation where the revocation is based upon 20 traffic infractions the odds of a DOL mistake is not only higher, there are also increased odds that the traffic court either input the wrong information or can be induced to amend the information it previously provided to the DOL.
In either situation, the best practice is to always request a hearing to contest a seven year HTO suspension.
REQUESTING A STAY OF A HABITUAL TRAFFIC OFFENDER SUSPENSION
Over the years we have had many people contact us regarding their HTO suspension wondering if anything could be done to lift it. And many of those individuals were surprised to learn that not only could something be done, they were already in fact doing it or had done it. If the HTO suspension was a result of criminal convictions that were based upon an alcohol dependency, the suspension can be stayed if the driver has obtained such and evaluation, after the date of the last incident and through a Washington certified treatment agency, and that he is actively involved in or has completed the required alcohol dependency program. The request for a stay can be made at any time, even if not challenge was made to the revocation or a challenge was made and denied. Additionally, this request can be made at the time of the initial HTO hearing, meaning that the stay could be put in place at the time of the revocation. When a stay is put in place, so long as the driver complies with the treatment program and any other conditions imposed by the DOL, he will be able to drive during the entire period of the imposed revocation.
EARLY REINSTATEMENT OF AN HTO SUSPENSION
Finally, if the revocation is valid and there is no cause for a stay, Washington state law does provide for early relief from the revocation under very specific conditions. Once four (4) years of the revocation have passed, the driver may apply for early reinstatement of his driving privileges. The conditions are that:
- Any alcohol/drug treatment conditions have been met
- The driver has never been suspended for failing to comply with treatment
- One or more years have passed since the denial of any previous early reinstatement requests has passed
- No evidence of driving within the previous two (2) years
OTHER HURDLES TO STAY OR EARLY REINSTATEMENT OF REVOCATION/SUSPENSION
In order to drive after a stay is in place or there has been an early reinstatement, all other holds on the license must be lifted. These would include but are not limited to:
- Unpaid traffic fines or court costs
- Fines or costs in collection
- Outstanding warrants on criminal traffic cases
- Suspensions for other reasons
In some cases, the DOL will enter the stay or early reinstatement but admonish the driver to take care of the other holds before driving. In other cases, the hearing officer will require compliance with those other obligations beforehand.
If you believe that you may qualify for the above relief from a Washington HTO revocation you can check with the Washington DOL. Keep in mind, however, that the clerks at the DOL are not always correct in how they review the record. You can also contact our office. We would be glad to review your record and contact the Department of Licensing on your behalf to help determine your eligibility. Don’t just assume you can not drive for the entire seven year period of revocation. And certainly don’t drive until the revocation has been stayed or lifted. To do so constitutes Driving with a Suspended License in the First Degree and would mean automatic jail and potentially a new seven year revocation. Do your research and/or contact an attorney for assistance.