Lewis Co. man takes fight against DWLS law to state supreme court


by KING 5 News


Posted on January 22, 2013 at 7:18 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 22 at 7:20 PM

A Lewis county man says he's prepared to take his fight against the state's driving while license suspended law to the Washington State Supreme Court.

Stephen Johnson is disabled and homeless. But that has not kept him for waging a legal battle with Lewis county that started with a driving citation in 2007.

"My license was not valid. It was expired," said Johnson. "And they fined me and I didn't have the money to pay the fine."

So like 300,000 thousand people in the state, Johnson’s license was suspended.  The problem is, living in such a rural area, 5 miles from the nearest bus stop, Johnson needs to drive.

"To get food, to earn enough money to take care of myself, to get to the doctor's office," he insists.

His attorney says the state is unfairly penalizing the poor.

"What happens is that these people never get their licenses back," says attorney Kevin Hochhalter. "When they lose their license, they often lose their income."

And therefore, they get stuck in an endless cycle.  Johnson says the crime should be called  "driving while poor."

"They suspend your license for owing money, til you pay," he says. "And if you don’t have the money to pay, it’s forever. And they will never stop. They will never give you your license back. Is that a fair punishment for a minor infraction?"

Lewis county prosecutors argue that driving is a privilege not a right. And that the penalty of suspending someone’s license is applied with the same legal force to any driver who doesn't pay a fine. They also argue that if you can afford the expenses that go hand in hand with driving, like fuel and insurance, you should be able to afford paying a fine for a citation.

The state Supreme Court will hear his case on March 19.