The State of Washington has one of the most aggressive and restrictive habitual traffic offender laws in the nation. Designed to keep drivers off the road who have poor driving records, it’s effect is to totally prevent one found to be in HTO status from being able to drive, for any purpose, for a minimum of four years and up to seven years. Frustratingly, many people are put into HTO by the Washington Department of Licensing in circumstances where it could have been completely avoided had proper action been taken to begin with. If you feel that you are endanger of being designated an HTO or have criminal traffic charges pending, the conviction for which could make you a habitual traffic offender, contact a lawyer immediately. The HTO lawyers at Milios Defense will help you avoid convictions that could lead to HTO status, represent you at hearings with the DOL designed to suspend your license or help you get your license reinstated early.
Definition of a Habitual Traffic Offender
The statute defining a Washington habitual traffic offender is linked to below. Essentially, it provides that if a person acquires too many of a certain type of criminal traffic conviction or moving violation within a certain period of time, that person’s privilege to drive in Washington is too be suspended for a period of seven (7) years. HTO status is reached if the driver either has three (3) major traffic convictions (Vehicular Homicide, Vehicular Assault, DUI, Physical Control, Hit and Run Attended, Reckless Driving, DWLS 1, DWLS 2, Eluding an Officer) or a combination of twenty (20) separate convictions and moving traffic infractions, within a five year period.
Right to Hearing
The DOL cannot just summarily suspend a driver’s license by declaring he or she to be a habitual traffic offender. The driver must be notified of the intent to suspend, given an opportunity to request a hearing and, if requested a hearing. The issues at the hearing are pretty straightforward. The DOL will only be looking to determine if the driver’s record supports a finding that the requisite number of convictions/infractions occurred within a five year period. If so the the license will be suspended. A person’s need to drive or hardship status will not be considered. However, if the cause of the suspension was based upon an alcohol or drug substance dependency issue and the person agrees to or has entered a substance dependency treatment program, the suspension may stay. (See possibility of Probationary License below)
Consequences of HTO Status
If found to be in HTO status, the DOL will suspend the privilege to drive for seven (7) years. If a person is caught driving during the period of suspension he will be charged with Driving on a Suspended License in the First Degree (DWLS 1). A conviction for this offense leads to mandatory jail (10 days on a first offense, 90 on a second, 180 for a third or more) and a likely increase in the license suspension. Currently, there is no right to drive a vehicle for occupational or any other purpose while suspended as an HTO.
As stated above, the DOL may allow the driver to hold on to his or her privilege to drive during the period of suspension on a probationary basis. To do so, it must be proven that the individual suffers from alcohol or drug dependency, that the dependency was the cause of the driver being a habitual traffic offender and that the driver agrees to enter into or has entered into a qualified chemical dependency treatment program. Even if the driver does suffer from chemical dependency, it is not a given that the DOL will grant the probationary license. In most cases, chemical dependency was not involved in one or more of the convictions that caused the HTO finding. In cases where the finding is based on a multitude of traffic infractions, it is unlikely that the DOL will find that any of the infractions were the result of dependency. If you believe that you may qualify for a probationary license while in HTO status, it is imperative that you seek the counsel of a qualified Washington HTO attorney as soon as possible.
Washington law allows that a driver in HTO status may petition for early reinstatement four years into the seven-year suspension. In order to even qualify for a reinstatement hearing, at least four years must have passed since the date of initial suspension. To prevail at the reinstatement hearing, the driver must convince the hearing officer that there is no evidence that the individual drove on two or more occasions in the one year previous to the date of the hearing. If the DOL does allow for early reinstatement, it will be conditioned upon lawful driving from that point until the end of the original suspension. If that agreement is violated, the DOL will re-suspend the license, often beyond the original seven-year reinstatement date.
An HTO suspension carries with it life altering and long-term consequences that are generally the most severe found in Washington criminal traffic law. If you are facing an HTO suspension or believe you may qualify for early reinstatement or a probationary license, contact one of the Seattle based Habitual Traffic Offender lawyers at Milios Defense. We will review your situation with and determine the best way to avoid the HTO suspension or to find relief from it as soon as possible.