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How does the court decide a Department of Licensing appeal in Washington?

How does the superior court decide my appeal?

On appeal, a Washington superior court judge will decide whether the DOL hearing examiner made the correct factual findings or committed any legal errors.  Specifically, the Court must consider the following five (5) issues: 

  • Did the police officer have a legal basis to arrest you?
  • Did the officer have reasonable grounds to believe that you were driving under the influence of alcohol and / or driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit?
  • Did the police officer properly advise of your right to either take or refuse a breath test (known as your “implied consent warnings”)?
  • Did the police officer properly administer the breath test?
  • If you refused the test, did you knowingly and intelligently refuse the breath test?

To win your appeal, you have to convince the Superior Court that the DOL hearing officer committed "errors of law" based on the evidence presented at the administrative hearing. (This evidence typically includes the police report, breath test documents, and the officer's testimony).

The appeal is limited to the record.  This means you don't get to present new evidence in the superior court.  

What happens if I win my appeal?

If you win your appeal, the Superior Court reverses the Department of Licensing's decision suspending your license and DOL must reinstate your full driving privileges.  This means you no longer need an ignition interlock license or SR 22 insurance to legally drive in Washington.  

Keep in mind, however, that the Department of Licensing also has the right to appeal, in which case the same procedures described above apply. But this time, your license is valid during the appeal.

What happens if you lose your superior court appeal?

If you lose in the superior court, you can appeal the superior court's ruling in the Court of Appeals. Unlike a direct appeal, however, the Court of Appeals can refuse to hear your appeal. That's why this second-level appeal is called a “discretionary appeal.”

The Court of Appeals only hears certain types of cases. The case, for example, must involve an issue of public interest, or the superior court's ruling must have conflicted with a prior Court of Appeals or Washington Supreme Court decision.  When filing your discretionary appeal, you have to convince the Court of Appeals that one of these factors is present. 

If the Court of Appeals denies review, your appeal is over and your license remains suspended.

If the Court accepts discretionary review, the appeal follows the same procedure that applies in superior court: you prepare and file the transcripts, the parties file briefs, the court schedules oral argument, and the Court issues a ruling. 

If you win your Court of Appeals hearing, the Court reverses the Superior Court's order upholding your licensing and directs the Department of Licensing to reinstate your license.  

If you lose in the Court of Appeals, you can appeal to the Washington Supreme Court.  This is also a discretionary appeal, and the Supreme Court is even more selective about what kinds of cases it hears. The case, for instance, must involve an issue of substantial public interest or the Court of Appeals' ruling must have conflicted with a prior Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court rarely (if ever) accepts DOL appeals.  


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