The Washington state Supreme Court has struck down the state’s felony drug possession law as unconstitutional, Q13 Fox reports. In the ruling, the high court determined that the law criminalizes “innocent and passive possession” because it is a “strict liability” law, meaning prosecutors don’t need to prove intent.
The decision comes in the case of Shannon Blake who was arrested as part of a stolen vehicle investigation in Spokane in 2016, according to court documents. At the jail, corrections officers found a small amount of methamphetamine in the coin pocket of her jeans and charged her with felony drug possession. During her trial, Blake contended that a friend had purchased the jeans at a secondhand store and given them to her two days prior to the arrest – an affirmative defense of “unwitting possession,” according to the court documents. Her boyfriend confirmed her story and testified that Blake did not use drugs. Ultimately, Blake was convicted but on appeal argued that “requiring her to prove unwitting possession to the charged offense violates due process.”
Five of the high court agreed in the opinion written by Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud. Three justices ruled in dissent. McCloud’s argument that, as written, the law would deny protections for a letter carrier who unknowingly delivered drugs, the roommate of someone who lives in a house where drugs are hidden in a common area, or someone who picks up the wrong bag at an airport.
“Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature’s powers.” – State of Washington v Blake
In an interview with Q13, former U.S. Attorney John McKay called the decision “remarkable” and indicated that it could toss some prior convictions under the now-defunct law but that would be up to the court to decide.
The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys on Thursday directed its members to immediately drop any pending simple drug possession cases, obtain orders to vacate convictions of anyone doing time for simple drug possession, and to recall any arrest warrants issued in such cases, according to the Associated Press.
Democratic state Rep. Roger Goodman, chairman of House Public Safety Committee, told the AP he expects the Legislature to approve a new law that would satisfy court scrutiny.
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