A Washington criminal conviction can have significant and lasting consequences. Convictions may result in greater sentences for subsequent offenses, the loss of firearm rights, and the loss of voting rights. In some circumstances, some rights may be restored. In a recent case, a man who had lost his firearm rights following a felony conviction was denied restoration based on a prior misdemeanor possession conviction.
According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the petitioner was convicted of misdemeanor possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana under former RCW 69.50.401(e), a strict liability offense, in 2003. The following year, he pleaded guilty to felony manufacturing methamphetamine. The judgment and sentence stated the maximum penalty was 10 years and did not list his prior conviction. The petitioner lost the right to use or possess firearms as a result of the 2004 felony conviction.
The petitioner sought restoration of his firearm rights in 2020. The state argued he was not eligible for restoration because the maximum sentence should have been 20 years instead of the state 10 years. The state argued the 2003 conviction automatically triggered the doubling provision of RCW 69.50.408. RCW 69.50.408 allows the doubling of a sentence for a conviction under Chapter 69.50, the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, if the defendant had a prior conviction under Chapter 69.50 or a federal or another state’s law related to narcotics, marijuana, depressants, stimulants, or hallucinogenic drugs.
The petitioner argued the state had not alleged or proved the existence of the prior misdemeanor conviction. The state argued it was not required to do so. The trial court denied the petition and the petitioner appealed.
After the appeal was filed, the Washington Supreme Court invalidated felony convictions for strict liability drug possession under RCW 69.50.4013 in State v. Blake. The state argued that Blake did not invalidate misdemeanor convictions like those of the petitioner.
The appeals court noted, however, that the due process analysis in Blake was based on the statute’s criminalization of “innocent and passive nonconduct on a strict liability basis.” The appeals court further noted that the recognition in Blake that a felony is a “serious crime” with “substantial penalties” does not mean that a misdemeanor cannot also be a serious crime with substantial penalties. The appeals court noted that misdemeanors can result in incarceration and serious collateral penalties, such as doubling the maximum penalties for future offenses and depriving the defendant of the right to restore their firearm rights as seen in this case. The appeals court therefore found that Blake invalidates strict liability misdemeanor drug possession convictions as well as felonies.
The appeals court found the invalidated misdemeanor conviction could not trigger the doubling of the maximum sentence for the petitioner’s felony conviction. The appeals court therefore reversed the trial court’s denial of the petition and remanded the case.
This case shows the type of impact Blake may have on individuals who were convicted of a strict liability offense under former RCW 69.50.401. If you are considering restoration of your rights, an experienced Washington post-conviction relief attorney can help you. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation.