Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1954 No. 360 - Dec 13 1954
Attorney General Don Eastvold


A court is not authorized to suspend the motor vehicle Operator's license of a person convicted of negligent driving, by virtue of RCW 46.20.280.  AGO 49-51-360, 10/3/50 to Chief, State Patrol, overruled.

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                                                               December 13, 1954

Honorable James A. Pryde
Chief, Washington State Patrol
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 360

Dear Sir:

            As an indirect result of the recent Governor's Safety Conference, it has come to our attention that two opinions released by this office in 1942 and in 1950 are in direct conflict upon the following question:

            Do the statutes authorize a court to suspend the motor vehicle operator's license of a person convicted of negligent driving?

            An opinion dated September 11, 1942, directed to the prosecuting attorney of King County, states that the answer is "No."

            An opinion dated October 3, 1950, addressed to you [[to James A. Pryde, Washington State Patrol; Opinion No. 49-51-360]], states‑-without reference to the earlier opinion‑-that the answer is "Yes."

            After consideration and review, it is our conclusion that the correct answer is "No," as given in the opinion of 1942; and that the opinion of 1950 [[Opinion No. 49-51-360]]should be and is hereby overruled.


            The controlling statutes have not been amended since the release of the 1942  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] opinion.  Both opinions are based upon construction of § 67, chapter 188, Laws of 1937, as amended by § 10, chapter 182, Laws of 1939, codified as RRS § 631267.  It may be noted that the Code Reviser has seen fit to alter the text of the session law (see RCW 46.20.280); but this can have no effect upon the actual operation of the law, which is to be determined by a fair construction of the original language.

            We deem it unnecessary to restate here the premises and reasoning employed in the conflicting opinions cited above.  Copies of both have been attached for your perusal and convenience.  The text of the opinion which will henceforth express the official viewpoint of this office may also be found at page 229 of the Attorney General's Biennial Report for 1941-42.

            It may be that our decision will overturn what has for some years past been an established rule of decision in certain of our traffic courts.  We express no opinion as to the wisdom or desirability of that result.  But if a change is to be made it must come from the legislature.  We are firmly convinced that any authority for the suspension of motor vehicle operator's licenses intended to be written into the cited section was expressed, as is pointed out with firm logic and in considerable detail by the opinion now adopted, in terms so completely ambiguous as to be ineffectual.

            We hope the foregoing will set at rest any doubt upon the point, by resolution of the conflict of opinion.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General