State Supreme Court ruling on drug possession could have wide reaching effects if legislature does not act
The State Supreme Court in a ruling on Thursday in the case of State of Washington v Shannon B. Blake they rendered a state law on possession of drugs unconstitutional. Justice Sheryl Gordon MCloud wrote:
"We begin with the rule that state legislatures have the police power to criminalize and punish much conduct. But the due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions limit that power. The key limit at issue here is that those due process clause protections generally bar state legislatures from taking innocent and passive conduct with no criminal intent at all and punishing it as a serious crime.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what RCW 69.50.4013, the strict liability felony drug possession statute, does. And it is the only statute in the nation to do so. We therefore conclude that it violates the state and federal constitutions."
In essence they ruled that the law as written violates Due Process.
In the case which began in 2016 "Police executed a search warrant in Spokane, Washington, seeking evidence of stolen vehicles... They arrested three people on the property, including Shannon Blake... At the jail, a corrections officer discovered a small baggy containing methamphetamine in the coin pocket of Blake’s jeans... The State charged Blake with possession of a controlled substance in violation of RCW 69.50.4013. At trial, Blake relied on the judicially created affirmative defense of “unwitting possession.” She testified that a friend had bought the jeans secondhand and given them to Blake two days before Blake’s arrest... Blake said she had never used methamphetamine and did not know the jeans had drugs in the pocket. She acknowledged that the drugs had been “on [her]” on the day of her arrest. Blake’s boyfriend also testified that Blake did not use drugs and that she had received the jeans from a friend."
The key phrase here is "unwitting possession" since that could be claimed by other defendants.
The case itself could have effects on cases still pending, or at the very least enable appeals from people convicted under the existing statute.
Defendant is convicted of child molestation and had a Department of Corrections escape warrant when he was charged in the drug case. His current King County Jail booking is also connected to a felony harassment case (20–1–05352–6), which was dismissed Feb. 19. He was booked Feb. 16 on a failure to appear warrant, and his last bench warrant in the drug case (19–1–07082–6) was issued Feb. 1. In the drug case, the defendant had 8 grams of meth, a scale and three cell phones in addition to the escape warrant.
Defendant was booked early Thursday morning, Feb. 25. The defendant has an extensive criminal history, including theft, first-degree robbery, harassment, threats to harm and malicious mischief. A judge signed a warrant that was issued in another drug case in Nov. 2020 (19–1–06310–2). This is believed to be the warrant tied to his current booking. In that case, he had 3.8 grams of meth — but was contacted as a suspect in a hit-and-run case and also had a Department of Corrections felony escape warrant. Separate from that, this individual had a Seattle Police drug case referred to us on Jan. 25 that is being reviewed now. In that case he fled from police and was found with cocaine, heroin, shaved car keys and 12 9mm bullets. We also have two other case referrals for the defendant: a residential burglary case and a stolen vehicle case.
The defendant was booked Feb. 24 on a felony warrant in a case where he was found in a tent with heroin and cocaine. When he was found with the drugs in a tent in 2018 — found through a judge-approved search warrant — the defendant had a warrant in another felony case (18–1–02324–2).
Defendant was found asleep behind the wheel of a parked car that was on while he was on active Department of Corrections supervision for driving with a suspended license and was required to have an ignition interlock device. A search warrant found escitalopram, suboxone, amoxicillin, methocarbamol, 3.1 grams of meth, 2.1 grams of heroin and a torch. The defendant’s conviction history includes residential burglary, multiple theft cases, hit-and-run, criminal trespass, three DUIs, reckless driving and three driving with a suspended license convictions. The case was filed with a warrant, approved by a judge. He was booked into the King County Jail Oct. 21, 2020. The defendant has at least 77 prior bench warrants.
The defendant is also held for failing to appear in a Tacoma felony case for vehicular assault. In the drug case, after he fled from police he was found with heroin and Suboxone packets. He also had a domestic violence warrant out of Bellevue when initially arrested in that case. Deputies said he also had a BB gun that looked real, a wig, change of shoes and gloves. The defendant, who has a history of at least 37 bench warrants, had pending warrants in three different courts when we filed the drug case with a warrant in October 2019. He was not arrested until November 7. His conviction history includes unlawful gun possession, theft, burglary, vehicle theft and malicious mischief.
The defendant was found with 11.8 grams of Xanax, but also had an outstanding $5,000 warrant in an attempted forgery case. Between the time of the defendant’s first appearance, where he was released by a judge, and the filing of charges, this individual also had warrants in a domestic violence assault case and a theft case. He has prior convictions for domestic violence assault, DUI, attempted theft, at least 12 theft convictions, possession of stolen property and criminal solicitations — and at least 27 warrants since 2015. The case was filed Feb. 4 and he was arrested Feb. 19.
- In 2008, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office started charging simple drug possession as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
- In 2018, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said anyone caught with less than a gram of any drug — the size of a sugar packet — would not be prosecuted, although police can ask prosecutors to charge someone who is a danger. Those rare cases are the ones outlined above.
- In 2020, we filed 580 felony drug cases county-wide. With that number there is not a way to differentiate the amount of drugs — so that includes cases everything from several grams of heroin to high-end drug dealing, to drug houses. But there must be clear evidence that brings the case to the felony level. Each case is reviewed independently, and cases are filed publicly.
- Of those 580 cases, 174 of those were filed to Drug Court. Drug Court has been operating in King County since 1994.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg provided a statement in reaction to the ruling:
Today’s State Supreme Court decision ruled that the state statute prohibiting the simple possession of controlled substances is unconstitutional. We are analyzing the impacts and potential retroactive application of this decision.
While there will be a significant amount of work necessary to comply with this ruling in the courthouses throughout the state, it is equally important that the Legislature take steps now to amend this statute to correct the defect found by the Supreme Court. The Legislature should act with a sense of urgency to add the necessary elements to make this statute constitutional this session, and not leave a defective statute on the books.
The drug cases we prosecute each week are focused on people dealing drugs in King County, and we file charges almost exclusively against people with repeat criminal behavior or a history of violence.
We know that treatment is the answer to substance use disorder and the overdose crisis we face today. In King County, we haven’t prosecuted anyone caught in possession of less than a gram of any drug since 2018. The court system is not set up to help individuals caught with tiny amounts of drugs. It certainly is not a conduit to treatment as we currently structure and fund it.
Today we heard an update about our overdose crisis in King County — a record number of people died from drug overdoses in 2020, and the pace continues this year. We should adopt and fund strategies to treat addiction as the medical issue that it is.
So courts are saying it’s okay to illegal drugs. That they are okay to use and sell. So at what point will the courts take the right of police away to do there job and to protect the citizens of Washington. So courts are saying go head and do drugs and don’t worry about getting arrested. This is so stupid of them. So now we have to protect are selves from now on. What very sad thing to have coming to are state