POWER OF COURT TO SUSPEND VEHICLE OPERATOR'S LICENSES
Except where revocation or suspension of an operator's license is mandatory for certain crimes, the courts have discretion to impose, in addition to other penalties, the suspension or revocation of operators' licenses of those convicted of operating a vehicle on the public highways contrary to any other state law or contrary to any municipal ordinance which makes a violation which is also a violation under the state law.
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October 3, 1950
Honorable James A. Pryde
Chief, Washington State Patrol
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 49-51 No. 360
The receipt of your inquiry in which you have asked:
"Is it within the judge's judicial discretion to suspend the operator's license of any person, in addition to any other penalty for violating any of the moving violations of the Motor Vehicle Laws?"
is hereby acknowledged and our conclusion is that except where revocation or suspension of an operator's license is mandatory for certain crimes, the courts have the discretion to impose in addition to other penalties the suspension or revocation of the operator's license of anyone convicted of operating a vehicle on the public streets and highways of the state contrary to any other state law.
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We have been furnished with no particular statement of facts by which we may find a definition of your term "moving violation", but since we are aware that said term is commonly used by traffic enforcement authorities to refer only to offenses committed in connection with a vehicle which is being operated or ismoving on the public highways we presume you refer only to such offenses.
It is the generally accepted law that a sentencing judge may assess only those penalties which by statute have been provided for the particular violation on which the accused has been tried and convicted. See: 24 C.J.S. Criminal Law, § 1982; City of Rochester v. Newton, 8 N.Y. Supp. (2d) 441, in which the court ordered that the defendant leave his operator's license with the court for six months without statutory authority therefor. Furthermore, appellate courts will uniformly construe the law strictly and in favor of the defendant. See Crawford, Statutory Construction, section 240. Since the suspension or revocation of an operator's vehicle license is an additional penalty assessed at the time of sentencing, authority therefor must be present to justify such penalty, and the provisions in our law to that effect, which provide for suspension or revocation of the privilege of operating a vehicle on the public highways evidenced by the license to do so, are section 64, chapter 188, Laws of 1937 (Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. 6312-64) which provides for mandatory suspension by the court of said license for not less than thirty days either upon conviction of any person for reckless driving, or upon the forfeiture of bail or collateral for the appearance of any one so charged, which does not allow judicial discretion; and section 65, chapter 188, Laws of 1937 (Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. 6312-65) which provides mandatory revocation by the court upon conviction of any person for any of the following crimes:
"1. Manslaughter resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle;
"2. Perjury or the making of a false affidavit to the Director of Licenses under any licensing law pertaining to motor vehicles or any other law of this state requiring the registration of motor vehicles or regulating their operation on public highways;
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"3. Any crime punishable as a felony under the motor vehicle laws of this state or any other felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used;
"4. Conviction or forfeiture of bail upon three (3) charges of reckless driving all within the preceding two (2) years.
"5. A conviction of an operator of a motor vehicle, involved in an accident resulting in the death or injury of another person upon a charge of failing to stop and disclose his identity at the scene of the accident;
"6. Operating any vehicle upon the public highways of this state while under the influence of or affected by the use of intoxicating liquor or of any narcotic drug;
"The foregoing offenses shall be in addition to any other offenses for which revocation of the vehicle operator's license is by law provided."
The legislature, however, by section 10, chapter 182, Laws of 1939 (§ 6312-67 Rem. Supp.) has seen fit to enact the following broad provision:
"Every court having jurisdiction over any of the offenses committed under this act or any other act of this state or under the ordinance of any incorporated city or town of this state regulating the operation of vehicles on any of the public highways, shall forward to the Director of Licenses a record of the conviction or forfeiture of bail by any person in said court for the violation of any provisions relating to the licensing of vehicle operators [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] or of any act of this state regulating the operation of vehicles on any of the public highways and a record of the conviction of or forfeiture of bail by any person in said court for the violation of any municipal ordinances which violation would also be an offense under the provisions relating to the licensing of motor vehicle operators or any act of this state regulating the operation of vehicles on any of the public highwaysin which case such court may in its discretion revoke or suspend the vehicle operator's license of such person." (Emphasis supplied)
From the language underlined, and as a result of conviction or forfeiture of bail on a charge of violation of any law regulating the operation of vehicles, the courts have been granted judicial discretion, with the power to impose, in addition to other penalties, the revocation or suspension of the operator's license of one so convicted.
So far as we can discover, this wide power has not been successfully challenged and it would, therefore, appear that a court may, in its discretion, suspend or revoke the operator's license of any person who has been convicted of operating a vehicle on the public streets and highways of the state contrary to any state law, or municipal ordinance which is also prohibited under state law, except as to those crimes which by law require suspension or revocation of said license on conviction, as we have pointed out above.
Very truly yours,
PHILIP W. RICHARDSON
Assistant Attorney General