By Teresa Groves – Senior Attorney, Puget Law Group
In the landmark decision of State v. Blake decided by the Washington Supreme Court in February, the Court voided all convictions for simple possession of drugs back to the time that the drug possession statute was enacted decades ago, which resulted in the release of Washingtonians held in jails awaiting trial on charges for simple possession. The court held that the statute is unconstitutional. The ruling applies to all controlled substances and all convictions whether felony or misdemeanor so long as the conviction is for simple possession and not for possession with intent to deliver, delivery of a controlled substance, or manufacture of a controlled substance.
After the court issued its decision in Blake, the State asked the court to reconsider that decision, pointing to the far-reaching implications of voiding these convictions. Many of the state’s courts and county prosecutors have refused to act on the Blake decision, citing the lack of a “mandate” making the decision final. This has resulted in many people who are eligible to have their convictions vacated or voided waiting in limbo.
Last week, on April 20, however, the court rejected the State’s arguments, denied the State’s motion to reconsider, and denied any “further reconsideration.” The next day, on April 21, the court issued its mandate on the Blake decision, making it final.
Now courts and county prosecutors who have previously refused to act on the decision, will have to address the magnitude of convictions affected by Blake. While it is obvious that convictions for simple possession must be voided or vacated, other implications of the decision will be worked out in the courts in all likelihood for many years to come.
In the meantime, late last week the Washington Legislature passed a new drug possession law, seemingly “fixing” the language in the old law that rendered that law unconstitutional and making simple possession a misdemeanor (rather than a felony). This law has not yet been signed by Governor Inslee. Assuming the new law passes, it does not in any way whatsoever affect people convicted prior to the new law being passed.