COURTS ‑ LICENSES ‑ MOTOR VEHICLES ‑ DEFERRED SENTENCES ‑ MANDATORY SUSPENSION OF DRIVER'S LICENSE UPON CONVICTION OF CERTAIN CRIMES.
A court, in granting a deferred sentence for an offense which, under chapter 46.20 RCW constitutes mandatory grounds for the revocation or suspension of a driver's license, cannot permit the person to retain his driver's license during the period of the deferred sentence.
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November 9, 1966
Honorable Charles O. Carroll
King County Court House
Seattle, Washington 98104
Cite as: AGO 65-66 No. 118
By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:
Can the court, in granting a deferred sentence for an offense which constitutes a mandatory ground for the revocation or suspension of a driver's license under chapter 46.20 RCW, permit the person to retain his driver's license during the period of the deferred sentence?
We answer your question in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.
As you have pointed out, your question arises from the enactment of chapter 121, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., specifically § 22 thereof. This 1965 enactment is a comprehensive code relative to the issuance, administration, and suspension or revocation of motor vehicle drivers' licenses. Operation of the licensing system is placed under the department of motor vehicles.
The particular section to which you have referred, § 22 (RCW 46.20.270), contains the following initial provision:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"(1) Whenever any person is convicted of any offense for which this act makes mandatory the suspension or revocation of the driver's license of such person by the department, the privilege of the person to operate a vehicle is suspended until the department takes the action required by this act, and the court in which such conviction is had shall forthwith secure the immediate forfeiture of the driver's license of such convicted person and immediately forward such driver's license to the department . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)1/
Thus, "conviction" of an offense which constitutes mandatory grounds for suspension or revocation of a driver's license under chapter 46.20 RCW2/ now operates as an automatic suspension of the license. In other words, the legislature has recognized that for certain offenses an individual should be immediately deprived of his license upon a conviction rather than having to wait for the period of time necessary to process the report of the conviction to the department and then for the department to notify the individual of the revocation.
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
The issue raised by your question, thus, is whether there is a "conviction" within the meaning of subsection (1) of § 22 (RCW 46.20.270),supra, when a court defers sentence after conviction of a crime requiring suspension or revocation of the defendant's motor vehicle operator's license.3/
Speaking of the meaning to be attached to the word "conviction," our court in Tembruell v. Seattle, 64 Wn.2d 503, 392 P.2d 453 (1964), recognized the rule that in interpreting statutes the intent of the legislature controls. The court stated at page 508:
"The legislature may give whatever meaning it will to a particular word or expression, and, if we understand the legislature's intentions, the courts will give it the same meaning. Our primary function in the field of statutory interpretation is to ascertain the legislature's intent. . . ."
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
Bearing directly on the question herein, the court continued as follows:
". . . we must keep in mind that the words convicted or conviction may be intended to convey different meanings in different contexts, . . . The legislature can make of such plea [a plea of guilty] what it will for particular purposes in particular circumstances without being held to have changed the legal effect of such plea for all purposes."
This case was decided in 1964, and was known to the legislature in 1965, when it enacted chapter 121, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., including § 22 (1),supra. Accordingly, in order to clarify the meaning of "conviction" as used in this driver's license provision, the legislature enacted, as subsection (3) of this same section, the following provision:
"(3) For the purposes of chapter 46.20 RCW the term 'conviction' shall mean a final conviction in either a state or municipal court. Also, for the purposes of chapter 46.20 RCW an unvacated forfeiture of bail or collateral deposited to secure a defendant's appearance in court, the payment of a fine, a plea of guilty or a finding of guilt on a traffic law violation charge,shall be equivalent to a conviction, regardless of whether the imposition of sentence is deferred or the penalty is suspended." (Emphasis supplied.)
Accordingly, it is to be seen that the legislature has in effect expressed its definition of the term "conviction" for a specific purpose. This falls directly within the framework outlined in Tembruell v. Seattle, supra. Subsections (1) and (3) of § 22, chapter 121, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., must be read together. See,DeGrief v. City of Seattle, 50 Wn.2d 1, 297 P.2d 940 (1956). The language thereof is clear and unambiguous permitting no latitude for construction. State v. Houck, 32 Wn.2d 681, 203 P.2d 693 (1949).
The clear legislative intent to include deferment of sentences within the term "conviction" for the purposes specified in this enactment compels the conclusion that the requirements in subsection (1), § 22, chapter 121, Laws of 1965, [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] Ex. Sess.,supra, are mandatory upon the sentencing judge even though imposition of sentence is deferred for a particular traffic violation.
We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
JOHN J. O'CONNELL
RICHARD F. WRENN
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/The codification of this section by the code reviser, RCW 46.20.270, substitutes the phrase "this chapter" for "this act."
2/The crimes presently requiring the mandatory revocation of a driver's license under chapter 46.20 RCW, are set forth in RCW 46.20.285, which provides as follows:
"The department shall forthwith revoke the license of any driver upon receiving a record of such driver's conviction of any of the following offenses, when such conviction has become final:
"(1) Manslaughter (or negligent homicide) resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle;
"(2) Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a narcotic drug, or under the influence of any other drug to a degree which renders him incapable of safely driving a motor vehicle, upon a showing by the department's records that the conviction is the third such conviction of such driver within a period of five years;
"(3) Any felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used;
"(4) Failure to stop and give information or render aid as required under the laws of this state in the event of a motor vehicle accident resulting in the death or personal injury of another;
"(5) Perjury or the making of a false affidavit or statement under oath to the department under Title 46 RCW or under any other law relating to the ownership or operation of motor vehicles;
"(6) Reckless driving upon a showing by the department's records that the conviction is the third such conviction of such driver within a period of two years."
3/It is beyond the scope of this opinion to pass upon the question of which courts have the power to defer criminal sentences.