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Driver's License Suspension Results in Deputy's Firing

In Washington, a driver who refuses to take a breath test after being stopped by a police officer and asked to do so automatically has his or her driver's license suspended for one year.

That is precisely what happened early last year to a deputy who worked in the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office. The repercussions of his act were serious; he was fired by the department and lost an appeal last month to be reinstated in his former position.

The deputy was stopped for speeding on I-5 in King County in early February 2009. The state trooper, believing that the deputy was "obviously intoxicated," asked him to take a breath test.

The deputy refused, which triggered the automatic suspension. The sheriff's office subsequently waded in, stating that it had no recourse but to fire the deputy, given departmental policy mandating that all deputies have valid licenses.

The Kitsap County Sheriff's Guild strongly disagreed with that act, and the deputy and sheriff's office commenced arbitration before a labor arbitrator, who ultimately ruled against the deputy.

"The Employer did not willfully restrict Grievant's license," the arbitrator noted, adding that, "It was Grievant who voluntarily and knowingly engaged in conduct that resulted in the revocation of his license."

The guild argued that the sheriff's office could have granted the deputy a waiver that would have enabled him to continue driving a county-owned vehicle during his suspension. It stated that terminating the deputy "was a major overreaction by the county." The Kitsap County Sheriff countered that the firing was necessary as a matter of ethics, saying that, "We have to have the trust of the public."

The case illustrates the seriousness that can attach to a driver's license suspension and the need for any person who is charged with DUI or potentially faces a license suspension to secure knowledgeable and experienced legal counsel.

Related Resource: "County Right to Fire Deputy With Revoked License, Arbitrator Rules" August 30, 2010

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