What is State v Blake, and why is everyone talking about it?
State v Blake is a Washington Supreme court case (State of Washington Vs. Shannon B. Blake) that litigated the application of Washington State’s possession of a controlled substance law (RCW 69.50.4013); more specifically the strict liability (simple) possession portion of the law.
In the ruling, the court found that, “[past] interpretation makes it that statute criminalize innocent and passive possession, even by a defendant who does not know, and has no reason to know, that drugs lay hidden within something they possess. Accordingly, RCW 69.50.4013 (1) – the portion of the simple drug possession statute creating this crime – violates the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions and is void.”
So, what does this mean?
In the immediate time period, it means that Washington State does not have a simple possession statute. Police and Sheriff departments across the state have immediately stopped arresting individuals for simple possession. If drugs are sized during an arrest situation, police agencies will destroy them. They cannot return them, or give them to someone else because it would make law enforcement complicit in the delivery of a controlled substance.
Additionally, County Prosecutors are working on the immediate release of all pre-trial detainees whose only charged offenses are simple possession, and expect to obtain orders vacating the judgements of all inmates in jails who are currently only serving time on simple possession.
During the current legislative session, we expect that Washington State lawmakers will have to decide on a policy level how to move forward. There are currently two competing Senate bills that were late introductions to address the law moving forward. Both add “knowing” to the former simple possession language, but they go about other aspects in different ways.
Additionally, the decision has the potential to cost both counties and the state millions of dollars. Though the logistics of how this will work still has to play out, and there may be some legislative direction, upon vacation of charges, an individual may seek a refund on any fees, LFOs, and other fiscal considerations that they had paid regarding the judgement.
The cost of UNPAID costs that fit in this category is currently $13,451,617. So, if we are to look back to 1971 as the timeframe for potential refunds, the cost becomes quite high. Though we are still VERY early in the analysis thus far, we are looking at $155 million or more in refundable charges. These costs, of course, impact both the state and counties, and along with our partners in the courts, and WSAC, we are looking at avenues to offset these losses during this legislative session.
The big take away we want you to have as of the time of writing this is that things are moving in many directions, this will take a lot of work for our members, partners, and legislature to truly get their arms around, and it will take time. If you have any questions, please reach out to WACO staff to assist you, and we will continue to keep you up to date as things progress.
Further Reading and References