In November, Jefferson Associated Counsel sent letters to Sheriff Joe Nole and Prosecutor James Kennedy, asking that they work together to enact a moratorium on filing DWLS3 charges.
DWLS3 stands for “Driving While License Suspended in the 3rd Degree.” The offense is committed when your driver’s license is suspended for failing to pay a traffic ticket.
Despite the fact that we are in the midst of a public health crisis, Jefferson County courts have seen a dramatic increase in DWLS3 filings. This fact was best exemplified by the November 9th calendar, which featured 30 out-of-custody arraignments for DWLS3, followed by 16 arraignments the week of November 16th, and 19 the week of November 23rd.
At Jefferson Associated Counsel, we have major concerns about the impact on the health of our clients, as well as all those who are involved in the court system:
1) Increased Risk of Exposure: The more people who are asked to come to court, the higher the risk of COVID exposure to everyone. Had all who were summonsed for the 1:15 calendar on November 9th showed up in person, the courtroom would have been overflowing. The risk of exposure for all of the people waiting in the hallway would have been exacerbated by the fact that at the moment court was starting, there was a line of Superior Court jurors queued in the hallway coming back from lunch.
2) Inefficiency/Waste: A recent ACLU study shows just how costly prosecuting these cases are to the Washington taxpayer (an estimated $1.3 billion since 1993). With the shortfall in County budgets expected from the COVID crises, we all want to save our resources by focusing on more important cases.
3) Lack of Public Safety Impact: The ACLU study also concludes that there is no correlation between having a suspended license for unpaid tickets and unsafe driving. Simply put, there is no relationship between DWLS3 convictions and public safety benefits.
4) Financial Impact on Citizens:Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Jefferson County citizens have been unemployed for months because of the statewide shut down for schools and businesses. Because of this, families across our county are facing financial challenges, and paying for food on the table may take a priority over paying for things like traffic tickets. The financial hardships related to the pandemic could lead to more DWLS3 arrests, purely because families are struggling right now.
In addition to this, the legality of filing these charges has recently been put into question both in Washington and nationwide. In October, the ACLU sued the Department of Licensing on behalf of individuals who have had their licenses suspended because they were unable to pay fines, claiming that this violates the state constitution’s rights to due process and equal protection, due to the additional punishments it levies on individuals with low or no income. On a national scale, two U.S. Senators have recently introduced bipartisan legislation to create incentives to stop debt-based driver’s license suspensions.
Join us in calling for a moratorium on filing DWLS3 charges, in order to protect the citizens of Jefferson County in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Send a letter to Joe Nole, or send a letter to James Kennedy to let them know you support the moratorium.