DUI Changes – A Boost for Deferred Prosecutions.

DUI Changes - A Boost for Deferred Prosecutions. SB 5644

By Geoffrey Burg

By unanimous vote in both the house and senate, the Washington State Legislature passed SB 5644 this year.  This legislation helps people arrested for driving under the influence who intend on seeking a deferred prosecution, but the prosecutor has delayed filing charges.   Amending 46.20.308, the legislation allows drivers who notify the department of licensing of their intent to seek a deferred prosecution to have their license suspension stayed for 150 after the date charges are filed or two years after the date of the arrest, whichever is less.

This legislation is necessary because in some areas of the state, particularly King County, prosecutors routinely delay filing DUI charges for six months or more.   In the meantime, the DOL has already held the administrative hearing and suspended (at least usually) the person's license.   Prior to the new charges, the DOL would grant drivers interested in seeking a deferred prosecution a stay for 150 days from the date of arrest.

In practice, this delay in filing made deferred prosecutions much less appealing.   First, clients who were in treatment would lose their license, but still have to get to treatment.  Second, the defense bar began counseling people that a deferred prosecution was of no great benefit, as the driver would still lose her license.  Third, drivers who relied on their license for work could be out of a job.

While determining the practical effects of a law is always difficult to do, here are three ideas about working with this new law:

  1. Notify DOL of the intent to seek a deferred prosecution.  A stay should be granted even if the notice has been given after the suspension has taken effect. This is good for the driver because it still gives her the opportunity to have a hearing and then request a stay, even if the hearing is lost.  It is also good for the driver who did not send in the request for a hearing, but later decides to seek a deferred prosecution.  In both cases the suspension will be stayed.  According to rumor, the DOL is preparing a form for this and it should be available on their web site. Note, this law does not require the filing of an alcohol evaluation or proof of treatment.
  2. Nothing in this bill prevents the defendant from fighting her case in court and then seeking a deferred prosecution.  However, if the driver is worried about losing her license, make sure to keep within 150 day/2 year timeline.
  3. This bill is ripe for abuse – resist the temptation.  This law creates a great benefit for people who are seeking a deferred prosecution.  However, DOL will probably be keeping tabs to make sure that drivers who notify them of the intent to seek a deferred prosecution actually follow through with their promise.  Undoubtedly, if they find out that this promise is broken, they will be back before the legislature looking for changes.

SB 5644 provides what should be a bright spot for those accused of DUI.  It is reasonable and practical legislation that should help some people get the treatment they need and keep their license while doing so.

[1] The exact reading of amendment to 46.20.308 (10)(a) is as follows:

or notifies the department of licensing of the intent to seek such a deferred prosecution, then the license suspension or revocation shall be stayed pending entry of the deferred prosecution. The stay shall not be longer than one hundred fifty days after the date charges are filed, or two years after the date of the arrest, whichever time period is shorter.

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