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If a police officer stops someone for a traffic violation and they don't have a driver's license and no identification at all, what is the charge?

  • The question is a bit ambiguous between a case when someone doesn't have a license or identification with them, and when someone doesn't have a license or identification at all. – ohwilleke Apr 27 '18 at 14:58
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It is hard to explain in plain English. The bottom line is that this is the misdemeanor driving without a license.

The worst case is driving with a revoked license: that is a gross misdemeanor. The second worst case is driving with neither valid ID nor a current or expired license. Under RCW 46.20.005, it is a misdemeanor to drive without a license.

Except as expressly exempted by this chapter, it is a misdemeanor for a person to drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state without a valid driver's license issued to Washington residents under this chapter.

But there is an exception which says that "other laws apply here":

This section does not apply if at the time of the stop the person is not in violation of RCW 46.20.342(1) or {former 46.20.420 →} 46.20.345 and has in his or her possession an expired driver's license or other valid identifying documentation under RCW 46.20.035.

Those other sections are about driving with a revoked license, a gross misdemeanor. If you have an expired license, this section does not apply (a more serious crime is involved). If you have valid ID, this section does not apply (a less serious crime is involved).

It is a traffic infraction and not a misdemeanor under RCW 46.20.015 if all of the following conditions are true: the person

Drives any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state without a valid driver's license issued to Washington residents under this chapter in his or her possession; (b) Provides the citing officer with an expired driver's license or other valid identifying documentation under RCW 46.20.035 at the time of the stop; and (c) Is not driving while suspended or revoked in violation of RCW 46.20.342(1) or *46.20.420.

That means that you can drive with just a passport (state ID card, military ID etc), and the price is a traffic ticket. But you can reduce the penalty by getting a drivers license:

(2) A person who violates this section is subject to a penalty of two hundred fifty dollars. If the person appears in person before the court or submits by mail written proof that he or she obtained a valid license after being cited, the court shall reduce the penalty to fifty dollars.

In case you think you can just take your chances and at most get stuck with a traffic ticket, also note RCW 46.20.317:

The department is hereby authorized to place any unlicensed person into a suspended or revoked status under any circumstances which would have resulted in the suspension or revocation of the driver's license had that person been licensed.

If you're a frequent illegal driver, they can revoke your non-existent license, and now you're driving with a revoked license. The maximum penalty for a gross misdemeanor is 364 days in prison and $5,000 fine.

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    I would note that the driver could also be charged with the traffic violation that led to the stop in the first place. – phoog Apr 27 '18 at 7:14
  • Could you clarify: Does "driving without a valid driver's license" mean your valid driver's license is at home, or does it mean you don't have a driver's license? – gnasher729 Apr 27 '18 at 22:54
  • If you're asking about 005, it should be read as "having not been issued", because if you have been issued a license, you are not guilty of 005. If you have been issued one but it expired, etc. then you committed a lesser offense. – user6726 Apr 27 '18 at 23:40
  • Checkpoint stops are not in response to a traffic violation, so sometime there is only the license issue to contend with. – user6726 Apr 28 '18 at 0:05

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