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Is a driver's license admissible as evidence in Washington?

Posted by Brian C. Zuanich | Jun 03, 2019 | 0 Comments

For most of us, your driver's license is your basic form of identification. You want to prove you're 21, pull out your driver's license. You want to pick up your medication from the drug store, pull out your driver's license. And, of course, if a police officer stops you, you better pull out your driver's license, because driving without your license results in a $124 fine.  

That's why pretty much everyone carries a driver's license all the time. And that's probably why Erin Roblin had her driver's license with her on November 2, 2016—which was very bad news for Nicholas Bajardi.

In 2014, the Thurston County Superior Court issued a no-contact order against Bajardi, prohibiting from having any contact with Erin Roblin.

On November 2, 2016, police responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle in a wooded area and found Bajardi and Roblin together. Bajardi was arrested, and the State charged him with felony violation of a no contact order. (In Washington, you can be charged with a felony if you have two prior convictions for violating a no contact order.

The case proceeded to a bench trial (i.e. a trial with no jury). At trial, the trial court admitted into evidence—over the defendant's objection—a certified copy of Roblin's driver's license. The officers testified that the woman in photograph on Roblin's driver's license was the same woman they saw in the van on November 2, 2016. (Apparently, Roblin herself did not testify at trial). The court found Bajardi guilty.

On appeal, Bajardi argued that the trial court made a legal error b aydmitting Roblin's driver's license into evidence because the “contents” of a driver's license did not meet the definition of a public record. The Court of Appeals in State v. Bajardi disagreed.

Under RCW 5.44.040, public records are admissible into evidence without further authentication. That is, the State doesn't have to drag someone from the Department of Licensing (DOL) into court just to say: “yeah, that's a driver's license.” That goes for all public records, which formally include “all records and documents on record or on file in the offices … of the United States … when duly certified … under their respective seals.”

The Washington Supreme Court has provided further guidance on this topic. To be admissible, a public record must contain only “facts and not conclusions” involving the exercise of judgment or discretion or opinion. Furthermore, the record must contain facts that are of a public nature.

As the Court ruled, a driver's license is the classic example of a public record. A governmental entity (DOL) prepares all  driver's licenses Licenses contain facts of an obviously public nature, like your name and your license photograph. And  driver's license contains basic facts—address, date of birth, height, weight, eye color.

And these basic facts helped convict Bajardi of a Class C felony.

About the Author

Brian C. Zuanich

I am the managing partner at Zuanich Law. I am a former prosecutor and insurance defense attorney, and have practiced law in state and federal courts for over a decade.


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