It’s time to stop wasting money on our state’s most commonly charged crime

Monday, February 12, 2018
What if there was a criminal charge that was ineffective and unfair? And what if taxpayers were spending billions to enforce it?
Meet DWLS3, the most commonly-charged crime in Washington, and one that doesn’t even need to exist.
A DWLS3 charge usually occurs when a driver receives a ticket for a moving violation (such as speeding or rolling through a stop sign) and does not comply with deadlines to pay the ticket or appear in court to contest it. The failure to pay or appear leads to license suspension, and if the person is later stopped while driving, a charge of Driving While License Suspended - Third Degree (DWLS3) may be filed.
There were more than 110,000 DWLS3 charges filed in 2016 and 2017.
People served 12,000 days in jail in 2016 and 2017 as a result of these charges. People of color, young people, and poor people are disproportionately and unfairly affected by the criminal charge of DWLS3.
Washington taxpayers spent approximately $130 million enforcing DWLS3 in the last two years, wasting scarce criminal justice resources. A conservative estimate of the costs of enforcing DWLS3 in Washington for the years 1994-2015 is more than $1.3 billion. Spending these massive amounts has not made Washingtonians any safer.   
The real threats to safety on our roads are driving under the influence and distracted driving. Law enforcement has tools to address these dangerous driving behaviors, including criminal charges for negligent or reckless driving, DUI, and being a habitual offender. Our limited resources should be used to enforce these laws, not to punish people because they are poor.
Several states do not criminalize DWLS3. Many local jurisdictions in Washington, including the cities of Yakima and Seattle, primarily treat it as a civil infraction. In fact, DWLS3 was not a criminal offense in Washington State until 1993.
Treating DWLS3 as a crime does not work. Support SB 6819 to reduce DWLS3 to a civil infraction.
 For information on the methodology used to estimate the costs of DWLS3 enforcement, please see Driven to Fail: The High Cost of Washington’s Most  Ineffective Crime – DWLS III, ACLU of Washington, 2017.