Olympia, WA – The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the state’s felony drug possession law was unconstitutional based on the state’s constitution.
The court ruled on the case of a woman named Shannon Blake in Spokane who claimed that the methamphetamine police found in her pants pocket didn’t belong to her, the Associated Press reported.
She claimed she had received the pants from a friend and they came with the small baggie of drugs in the pocket.
“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,” the court ruling read. “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 state supreme court said that the state’s felony drug possession law was unconstitutional because it does not require prosecutors to prove that a defendant knowingly or intentionally possessed the drugs, the Associated Press reported.
It should be noted that in Washington State, laws about possession of stolen property and weapons also do not require prosecutors to prove the mindset of the defendant.
In order to reimplement possession laws, lawmakers would need to rewrite the laws. Even if the laws are rewritten to be legal, it would be much harder to prove unlawful possession.
Five Washington Supreme Court justices, led by Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, said that the law criminalized the woman’s passive, unknowing conduct, in violation of her due process protections, the Associated Press reported.
“This court, however, is the one that must evaluate whether that statute comports with constitutional due process guaranties,” the court wrote in the ruling. “We have been asked to do that today, and we hold that the statute violates those guaranties. 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.”
The justices noted in their ruling that Washington was the only state with a drug possession law that doesn’t require proof of intent, the Associated Press reported.
Thread-Washington Supreme Court strikes down strict liability narcotics statute.
I’d assumed they were all strict liability.
But only Washington’s was. H/t #appellatetwitter @ShannonKilpatri @EHA_appeals https://t.co/wmZJMFy229
— Saad Gul (@NC_CyberLaw) February 25, 2021
Another justice wrote that the court didn’t have to find the law unconstitutional because she would have overturned the conviction by interpreting the law as implicitly requiring proof that the woman possessed the drugs intentionally.
Washington Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson wrote the dissent, and said the legislature had the authority to criminalize unknowing drug possession, the Associated Press reported.
Law enforcement sources in Washington State told The Police Tribune that they were already being told that they can’t detain or cite people for possession of illegal drugs.
Police sources also said they’re being told they can’t even take the drugs away from the suspect.