In State v. Blake in 2021, the Washington Supreme Court determined that Washington’s strict liability drug statute violated due process because it “criminalize[d] innocent and passive possession.” This case has had a tremendous impact on Washington drug possession cases. A Washington criminal conviction that is based on an unconstitutional statute is required to be vacated. A number of cases under the previous version of R.C.W. 69.50.4013(1) have been overturned as a result of the Blake decision. Recently, a juvenile appealed his drug possession adjudication under a different statute, arguing it should also be vacated due to the court’s holding in Blake.
The juvenile was found guilty of violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act under former R.C.W. 69.50.4014. He appealed, arguing the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in Blake required his adjudication to be vacated. He argued the applicable version of R.C.W. 69.50.4014 was unconstitutional and void based on the reasoning in Blake.
The state argued that Blake did not void the applicable version of R.C.W. 69.50.4014 because that charge carried a lesser punishment than the statute Blake found was unconstitutional. The appeals court rejected the state’s argument, noting the Blake court did not base its decision on the severity of the punishment. The Blake decision was instead based on the statute’s lack of an intent element.
The version of R.C.W. 69.50.4014 applicable to the juvenile’s charges stated that “any person found guilty of possession of forty grams or less of marijuana is guilty of a misdemeanor.” The applicable version of the statute did not include an express intent element. After Blake, the statute was amended to add the intent element of “knowing.”
The appeals court found that the applicable R.C.W. 69.50.4014 did not include an intent element and therefore “criminalize[d] innocent and passive possession,” just as the previous version of R.C.W. 69.50.4013(1) did. The court could not read an intent element into the statute because the statute was subsequently amended to add one. There is a presumption that the legislature intends to change the law by changing the wording of a statute. There would have been no need for the legislature to amend the statute to add an intent element if there was already an intent element included in the statute.
The appeals court found the version of R.C.W. 69.50.4014 under which the juvenile was adjudicated violated state and federal due process because it did not include an intent element. Because the statute was void as unconstitutional, the juvenile’s adjudication had to be vacated. The appeals court reversed and remanded the case to the juvenile court to vacate the guilty adjudication.
Blake has had a significant effect on drug possession cases in Washington. The state now must prove that possession was “knowing.” The experienced Washington criminal defense attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, have a thorough understanding of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and the related case law. If you are facing drug charges, call our office at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case with us.