The City of Edmonds said Thursday that Edmonds police will no longer, “as a standard practice,” file a criminal case for the sole offense of Driving While License Suspended in the Third Degree.
Acting Police Chief Jim Lawless issued the order to all police department personnel Wednesday.
Instead of filing criminal charges, police will — with some exceptions — cite the offender with a civil infraction of No Valid Operator’s License with ID (if the offender carries a valid form of identification as outlined in state law).
Typically, a third-degree Driving While License Suspended (DWLS 3) offense results from failing to pay the ticket or appear in court for a prior moving violation, like speeding or rolling through a stop sign. Subsequently, the person’s driver’s license is suspended for failing to respond to the violation.
“Criminalizing the stand-alone offense of Driving While License Suspended in the Third Degree can lead an individual down a spiral of debt, inability to drive, loss of job, and worse,”said Edmonds Mayor Nelson. “That downward spiral hits particularly hard among lower-income individuals and people of color. In Washington state, Black people are three times more likely to be charged, and Native Americans are twice as likely to be charged, with this offense.”
Statistics in Edmonds are different than those statewide, according to the department’s 2019 annual Biased Based Policing Review, which is required annually for state accreditation. In that review, the activity report for all citations issued in 2019 shows the following breakdown: 69.2% white, 8.48% Black and 0.35 Native American.
One-third of all Edmonds Municipal Court prosecutions are currently being dedicated to DWLS 3 cases, the mayor said. “We need to prioritize our limited resources on more acute public safety issues like driving under the influence,” he added. “Acting Chief Lawless and I concur that treating this offense as a civil infraction will be the right response, without causing undue harm.”
According to the city, there will be exceptions to this order if the driver has had any of the following:
- Ten or more prior DWLS convictions
- Prior vehicle assault conviction
- Prior vehicular homicide conviction
- Prior attempting to elude conviction
- Prior hit and run conviction
- Prior DUI conviction
Additionally, officers may criminally charge for DWLS 3 if the offender is charged with additional, concurrent, traffic-related gross misdemeanors/misdemeanors, or for other exceptional circumstances upon supervisory approval, the city said.
The citing officer must list one or more of the above exceptional circumstances within the body of his/her narrative establishing the ground for the offender’s citation or arrest for DWLS 3.
“I want to thank Acting Chief Lawless for his work on this issue, as well as Municipal Court Judge Linda Coburn, and Councilmembers Susan Paine and Luke Distelhorst for their supportive input,” Nelson said.