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Washington Supreme Court Invalidates Every Drug Possession Conviction - Ever

Posted Tuesday, March 16, 2021 by Andrew Charles Huff

The Washington Supreme Court just ruled that criminalizing simple possession of drugs is unconstitutional. This ruling extends to every simple possession conviction regardless of drug, quantity, time, or classification, whether felony or misdemeanor. The case that led to this decision was State v. Blake, where Spokane police executed a search warrant for a stolen vehicle. During booking at the jail, officers discovered a small baggy of methamphetamine in the coin pocket of Ms Blake’s jeans and she was charged with possession of a controlled substance. However, Ms Blake argued the jeans did not belong to her, she had borrowed them from a friend a few days earlier, and had no idea that there was meth in the coin pocket.

The Washington Supreme Court reviewed her case and ruled that the legislature cannot constitutionally criminalize “passive non-conduct” without requiring the State to prove that the person charged knew that he or she possessed a controlled substance. Otherwise, the risk is criminalizing even truly innocent conduct without requiring the State to prove knowledge of the specific substance. This ruling encompasses all time, all drugs, all quantities (so long as it was only possession), and all classifications (felony and misdemeanor).

The most important limitation to this new ruling is that it applies to simple possession only. It does not apply to manufacture of a controlled substance, delivery of a controlled substance, or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance. All convictions for manufacture, delivery, and possession with intent are still valid. It also applies only to convictions that occurred in Washington state, under Washington state law. It does not apply to convictions that occurred in federal court, under federal law.