Spokane woman’s case prompts state Supreme Court to strike down drug possession law

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — A decision from the Washington State Supreme Court will change drug possession law from here on out.

The court found the state’s drug posession law unconstitutional because it allows people to be convicted of a crime for completely innocent conduct.

The decision stems from a 2016 case involving a Spokane woman. 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. Blake, however, did not use drugs.

Her friend had purchased the jeans secondhand and gifted them to her two days prior. Despite being unaware of the drugs, Blake was found guilty because Washington law does not require proof that a defendant knowingly possessed drugs.

The Supreme Court concluded the law unconstitutionally criminalized “passive and innocent conduct” and that Blake was convicted although the prosecutor did not provide that she “did anything except wear jeans that had pockets.”

The Court expressed concern that the law could extend criminal liability to those who may pick up the wrong bag at the airport, jacket at a concert or even the wrong briefcase at the courthouse.

“The Court correctly recognized the injustice of convicting people for innocent conduct,” said Richard Lechich, 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.”

Washington now joins 49 other states and the federal government in recognizing that the unknowing possession of drugs is not a crime.