How a Spokane Drug Case led to 300,000 overturned convictions
It began back in 2016, when Shannon Blake was arrested in Spokane and convicted of simple drug possession. In an argument that went clear to the Washington State Supreme Court, Blake argued that she did not know there was a baggie of methamphetamine in the jeans she had received from a friend.
The court agreed, and on February 25, 2021, the Court struck down the state’s main drug possession crime in the case immortalized as State v. Blake. The court ruled that the statute violated Blake’s due process, bringing into question the issue of intent. While a technicality, the law criminalized “unknowing” drug possession. As Shannon Blake contended, people could be arrested and convicted even if they did not realize they had drugs in their possession.
The ruling meant there was no state law making simple possession of drugs a crime. It also meant that some 300,000 people who were convicted under that law were now eligible to have their convictions struck. And for those who paid mandatory court fees and legal fees, the state has set aside nearly $100-million dollars to handle both the review of cases going back into the 1970’s, and potential reparations.
Blake Implementation Section for the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts.
Because of the immense number of cases involved, the Washington Office of the Courts has set up a special Blake Implementation Section. The Washington legislature has earmarked $47 million for operations, and another $50 million for refunds that can be paid out to individuals tied to the Blake-decision.
People with pending charges have been released from jails and their charges dismissed across the state. Others awaiting sentencing hearings can expect to see their sentencing scores recalculated. Just how far back to consider these changes has yet to be determined.
In Spokane County, a special website has been set up to begin receiving and reviewing these cases. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO
Lawmakers Agree to Make Drug Possession and Use a Crime
This past year, lawmakers needed to come back for a special session to pass ESB 5476, that makes illegal drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Starting July 1st, 2023 before someone can be charged with a drug possession crime, they must be diverted to services at least twice.While lawmakers set aside funding for this diversion program, policy makers in Spokane county are scrambling to develop such a program to comply with the new law.
Under the previous law, judges often added supervision and mandatory counseling to those convicted of drug possession. Those receiving this court-ordered treatment and supervision may lose their benefits because their charges are overturned. Ultimately, it may be up to the Washington State Health Care Authority to convene an advisory committee and creating rules for a “plan” on how to provide services to people with substance use disorders.