Washington Supreme Court Invalidates Possession of Controlled Substance Convictions
Drug Possession Convictions are Invalid
In a landmark opinion, the Washington Supreme Court in State v. Blake ruled that the law prohibiting possession of controlled substances in unconstitutional and those convicted may be eligible to have their conviction invalidated. The reasoning behind the opinion is that the law did not require the state to prove that a person knew they were in possession of drugs in order to convict someone of the crime. The state simply had to show that the defendant was “in possession,” which could have been a situation where you were driving a friend’s car and police found drugs in it when they pull you over.
Although the defendant was always able to claim “unwitting possession,” where a person charge could argue that they did not know they were in possession, this violates a fundamental principle in American criminal law where the State should prove guilt and the accused should not have to prove their innocence: In other words, innocent until proven guilty.
Not the Only Strict Liability Crime
This is not the only example of a crime where the state does not have to prove knowledge, but it is the only example of a felony offense. There are other crimes that are referred to as “strict liability,” which means that the state does not have to prove that you knew a fact that makes you guilty of the crime. The most common example is Driving While License Suspended. In Washington, many people have their driving privilege suspended for a number of reasons like not paying a ticket or not paying a license fee. Drivers are often unaware that they are suspended and the law does not require that they know. When they are pulled over they are charged with a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail.
The Washington Supreme Court in State v. Blake ruled that having a strict liability crime that has such significant consequences as felony drug possession is beyond the state’s authority. Consequences of a felony conviction include years in prison, a criminal record, deportation of non-citizens, revocation of gun rights, housing discrimination, lost work opportunities and overall social stigma.
Vacate Your Drug Possession Charge
Since the Supreme Court ruled that the law is invalid, anyone is eligible to have their charge vacated, subject to a few exceptions. The Court ruled that only simple possession is invalid, so Possession with Intent to Distribute or Manufacture is still good law. Additionally, if your conviction was a plea bargain from a higher charge, you may not qualify to vacate your conviction.