By Claudia Yaw / [email protected]
A wave of Washingtonians with drug possession charges are now eligible to have them vacated. As the state scrambles to address the Blake decision — in which the state Supreme Court ruled Washington’s drug statute unconstitutional — here’s what individuals with drug charges should know.
In State v. Blake, justices struck down Washington state’s drug possession law since it punished offenders regardless of whether or not they knew they had drugs on them. The decision is retroactive, meaning drug charges dating all the way back to the 1970s can now be re-evaluated.
While courts will undoubtedly be overwhelmed by decades of cases they now have to review, Lewis County residents trying to vacate charges can try to expedite that process via a voluntary form now made available by the prosecutor’s office.
Find the form in English or Spanish here: https://bit.ly/3uoL8xU.
For individuals impacted by the Blake decision, but who don’t submit the form, Lewis County will work in order of conviction, starting with the county’s most recent cases.
State v. Blake only relates to cases of simple possession. Other drug-related charges, like possession with intent to deliver, won’t be scrubbed under this ruling.
But if a court factored in simple drug possession to determine the sentence for a different charge, that sentence could now be re-evaluated.
It’s also important to note that if an individual pleaded guilty to possession via a plea deal, the vacation of that charge could result in a prosecution of more serious crimes.
“Such a result may be unwanted and may result in a conviction for a different and/or more serious crime and additional time in custody,” the county’s form reads.
Will I Get My LFOs Back?
It’s unclear just how many legal financial obligations (LFOs) are now owed back to people who were prosecuted under Washington’s drug possession law. But this month, Democrat Sen. Manka Dhingra, who’s leading the state’s efforts to respond to the Blake decision, said there’s a “very clear consensus” that those fees will have to be returned.
It’s an issue that county courts are currently staring down, with local officials hoping that the state allocates funding to help counties work through what’s expected to be a major backlog in cases, and a significant amount of fines and fees that were levied under a state law now ruled unconstitutional.
Will the Court Change its Mind?
The state Legislature is poised to re-criminalize drug possession to some extent, offering a “fix” to the Blake decision. But those new laws won’t apply retroactively. And while a motion to reconsider has been filed — essentially asking the state Supreme Court to alter its ruling — state officials are operating on the assumption that the Blake decision is final.
“Everybody’s waiting to hear on that (motion to reconsider),” Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said Friday. “I don’t have a whole lot of confidence that that will be successful … my guess is that it won’t be heard, and that it will just be summarily denied.”
Taken together, if your charge was impacted by the Blake decision, that likely won’t be changing.