February 25, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Richard Lechich, Staff Attorney
(206) 587-2711 ex. 205
February 25, 2021 – Court’s opinion in Blake decriminalizes unknowing drug possession, joining 49 other states
(Olympia, WA) – The Washington Supreme Court struck down today the state’s drug possession law as unconstitutional because it allows people to be convicted of a crime for completely innocent conduct.
Police found a small baggie of drugs in the coin pocket of Shannon Blake’s jeans, and charged her with drug possession – a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a hefty fine. But Ms. Blake did not use drugs. Her friend had purchased the jeans secondhand and gifted them to her two days prior. Although Ms. Blake was unaware of the drugs, she was found guilty because Washington law does not require proof that a defendant knowingly possessed drugs.
The Court concluded the law unconstitutionally criminalized “passive and innocent nonconduct” and that Ms. Blake was convicted although the prosecutor did not prove that she “did anything except wear jeans that had pockets.”
The Court expressed concern that the law could extend criminal liability to those who “pick up the wrong bag at the airport, the wrong jacket at the concert, or even the wrong briefcase at the courthouse. Or a child might carry an adult’s backpack, not knowing that it contains the adult’s illegal drugs.”
“The Court correctly recognized the injustice of convicting people for innocent conduct,” said Richard Lechich, a Staff Attorney at the Washington Appellate Project who argued the case before the Court. “While the decision cannot rectify the harm this law caused to so many communities, particularly communities of color, it at least puts an end to it.”
As a result of the Court’s decision, Washington joins 49 other states and the federal government in recognizing that the unknowing possession of drugs is not a crime.
The full opinion in State v. Blake is available on the Court’s website.