OLYMPIA, February 26, 2021- The Washington Fraternal Order of Police (WAFOP) today urged the Legislature to immediately amend Washington’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act (found in RCW 69.50) in response to the Washington Supreme Court recent decision in State vs. Blake.
Contrary to the decisions in countless cases before Courts of Appeals and prior State Supreme Court rulings, the Court yesterday concluded that the current definition (RCW 69.50.4013) of the crime of Possession of a Controlled Substance (PCS) is insufficient, because it does not require an intent be associated with the act of possession. Washington law has contained a straightforward statement that “It is unlawful for any person to possess a controlled substance,” and provided for a defense to the charge when the person did not knowingly possess the substance. The burden of proving the defense was on the defendant.
“The effect of this ruling will be to call into question all felony Possession of a Controlled Substance convictions since inception of the Act,” said WAFOP Vice President James Schrimpsher. “Possession of a Controlled Substance is an extremely common, but also an extremely serious crime. As peace officers charged with protecting the public, we are very concerned that prior convictions will be reviewed and possibly dismissed, and that many offenders who are appropriately incarcerated under the law before the Supreme Court’s decision will receive lesser sentences and earlier release.”
Because the Court’s majority held that its opinion is based on the Washington Constitution, no appeal of the Blake decision to the US Supreme Court is possible, Schrimpsher noted. However, the Blake opinion also clearly states that as long as the Legislature includes one of four mental states recognized by the state in definitions of crimes, its definition of the crime of Possession of a Controlled Substance will be found constitutional. Those four mental states are: intent, knowledge, recklessness, or criminal negligence.
“Lawmakers should work immediately to amend the definition of the crime of Possession of a Controlled Substance to include one of these mental states, such as knowledge, into all definitions of the crime,” Schrimpsher urged. “This needs to be corrected this session to continue protecting our communities.”