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State Supreme Court Decision Revolutionizes Washington’s Drug Laws


Press Contact:

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.

ALERT: Phone scam targets incarcerated individuals and their families

(December 12, 2020) – The Pierce County Prosecutor warns that a company has been contacting families of incarcerated individuals, offering $1,500 services to aid their loved ones in requesting a resentencing hearing.

Prosecutor Mary Robnett warned that families have been receiving calls offering $1,500 to aid their loved ones in requesting a resentencing hearing, wrongly implying that certified court documents are needed to request one as per a new Washington law.

Please note there is no need for “certified” court documents and no need to pay to request resentencing. The law the scam refers to, Senate Bill 6164, makes no mention of such a requirement.

Please notify others of this scam and contact us if you have any questions or concerns.


To read the full text of Senate Bill 6164, click here.

To read an article from The News Tribune regarding the scam, click here.

COVID-19: Statewide restrictions announced on November 15

In compliance with the Governor’s November 15, 2020 proclamation, the Washington Appellate Project will be closed to the public until restrictions are lifted. Echoing our response to the original Stay Home proclamation from March, attorneys and staff will continue to primarily work remotely. A limited number of personnel will be present in the office; administrative staff will be in office on Mondays and Wednesdays to answer calls and process mailings. The best way to contact our office is by calling on these days, sending a letter, or filling out our contact form.

We remain committed to ensuring the safety of our employees and community while continuing to meet our obligations to our clients.

Resources and Related Links

Lila Silverstein receives awards from ACLU and WSBA

Lila Silverstein wins ACLU's Civil Libertarian award. Congratulations!

Lila holding her well-earned award.

(October 29, 2020) — Lila Silverstein and Neil Fox receive the Civil Libertarian Award for their fruitful efforts on the Gregory case.

This fall, Washington Appellate Project attorney Lila Silverstein received two awards for her work on State v. Gregory, 192 Wn.2d 1 (2018). Lila and her co-counsel, Neil Fox, were honored with the Kathleen Taylor Civil Libertarian Award from the ACLU of Washington and the Distinguished Service Award from the Civil Rights Section of the WSBA.

In Gregory, Lila and Neil presented the Washington Supreme Court with a study they had commissioned by social scientists Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans, demonstrating that black defendants in Washington were significantly more likely than other defendants to be sentenced to death, after controlling for relevant case characteristics. Based on this study and legal arguments presented by Lila, Neil, and amici, the Supreme Court struck down Washington’s capital sentencing scheme as unconstitutionally arbitrary and racially biased.

In presenting the awards, these organizations also thanked Lila for her work on GR 37, a rule aimed at reducing race discrimination in jury selection, and her work with her Washington Appellate Project colleagues fighting the criminalization of poverty.

Congratulations, Lila, and thank you for your dedication to equal justice.

An article from the Seattle Times. Lila Silverstein and co-counsel Neil Fox are shown celebrating their win in State v. Allen Gregory.