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AGO 1955 No. 149 - October 26, 1955
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- DRIVING WHILE LICENSE SUSPENDED OR REVOKED ‑- MINIMUM SENTENCE WHEN SUCH DRIVING IS WHILE UNDER INFLUENCE

The minimum mandatory sentence under § 2, chapter 393, Laws of 1955, applies only to those offenses where the operator was driving under the influence while his operator's license was suspended or revoked.

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                                                                October 26, 1955

Honorable Maloy Sensney
Prosecuting Attorney
Benton County
Fisk Building
Prosser, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 149

Attention:  Mr. Herbert H. Davis, Deputy

Dear Sir:

            We have your letter of October 1, 1955, in which you request our interpretation of the following question:

            "Does the minimum mandatory sentence provided by paragraph 10 of section 2, chapter 393, Laws of 1955, for driving while license is suspended or revoked apply to any other offense than driving under the influence?"

            Our answer is in the negative.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The tenth paragraph of section 2, chapter 393, Laws of 1955, amending RCW 46.52.100, reads as follows:

            "If the operator at the time of the offense charged was without an operator's license because of a previous suspension or revocation, the minimum mandatory jail sentence and fine shall be ninety days in the county jail and a two hundred dollar fine.  The penalty so imposed shall not be suspended."

            We had occasion to consider this particular paragraph in an opinion rendered to the prosecuting attorney of Lewis county July 20, 1955 (AGO 55-57 No. 118).  However, the specific question there under consideration was whether it would be a violation of RCW 46.20.350 for a person to operate a motor vehicle in the period following the end of the calendar period for which his license was suspended or revoked, and before his license was reissued.

            Here the particular inquiry is as to what particular offense, if any, is meant by "the offense charged" in the act.  It should be noted that section 2 of chapter 393 affects three separate provisions of the motor vehicle code: (1) The first seven paragraphs are virtually a re‑enactment of RCW 46.52.100 with the addition of a new paragraph eight; (2) the ninth paragraph is new and affects the penalty for violation of RCW 46.56.010; and (3) the tenth paragraph (the one under consideration) is new and effects RCW 46.20.350.  We point this out as partially indicative of the confusion caused by chapter 393 in an analysis of its effect on the motor vehicle act.

            In the inquiry before us, the purpose of paragraph ten is obviously to effect the penalty provisions of RCW 46.20.350, the statute dealing with the penalty for driving after suspension, etc., which provides that

            "* * * upon conviction shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than ten days nor more than one year and by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            With reference to the "offense charged" in paragraph ten, the

            "* * * minimum mandatory jail sentence and fine shall  be ninety days in the county jail and a two hundred dollar fine * * *"

            What is the "offense charged" then, to which this minimum mandatory jail sentence is applicable?  If it were intended to amend all instances of driving after suspension, etc., the logical way would have been to amend RCW 46.20.350, the statute defining the offense and providing the general penalty.  As we pointed out in the cited opinion, "The new section has not changed the definition of the violation, nor has it created or defined a violation not heretofore in existence."  It is a cardinal rule that two statutes dealing with the same subject matter will, if possible, be construed as to preserve the integrity of both.  State v. Fairbanks, 25 Wn.2d 686.

            Consequently, in reading paragraph ten together with RCW 46.20.350, it is possible to arrive at a consistent conclusion without doing violence to either.  This can be done logically by retaining the full effect of RCW 46.20.350 as to all operations of a motor vehicle, except that where an operator is charged with driving under the influence while his license has been revoked or suspended, the minimum mandatory penalty provided by paragraph ten shall be imposed.  This minimum is within the penalty provided by RCW 46.20.350 and it is consistent to confine it to the specific offense of driving under the influence rather than to make a general application to every operation while the license has been suspended or revoked.  This being a penal statute, it should be construed strictly against the state and in favor of an accused.  State v. Thompson, 38 Wn.2d 774.

            Likewise, when a statute has a doubtful or ambiguous meaning, a construction that is reasonably liberal in furtherance of the obvious or manifest purpose of the legislature should be adopted.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn.2d 681.

            Applying the principles as hereinbefore set out, we conclude that the penalty provided for in the tenth paragraph of section 2, chapter 393, Laws of 1955, applies to those offenses in which an operator, while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of or affected by the use of intoxicating liquor or any narcotic drug, was, at the time of such operation, without an operator's license because of a previous suspension or revocation.  In other words, two elements are necessary to require the imposition of the minimum sentence  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] provided in this section: (1) Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence; (2) while his operator's license is suspended or revoked.

            We trust that this analysis will be helpful to you.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General

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