SPD will no longer make arrests for drug possession after state Supreme Court ruling
Following a landmark state Supreme Court decision, the Seattle Police Department announced Thursday that it will no longer arrest individuals for simple drug possession.
The court’s ruling sought to end the arrest of people who are unknowingly in possession of illicit drugs. Justices cited an instance in 2016, where Spokane woman Shannon Blake was arrested in connection with three stolen vehicles. After being booked into jail, a corrections officer found a small bag of methamphetamine in the coin pocket of her jeans.
Blake was charged with possession of a controlled substance, despite claiming that she had been sold the jeans secondhand from a friend, had never previously used methamphetamine, and that the baggy was left in the pocket of the jeans without her knowledge prior to buying them.
Ultimately, the state Supreme Court ruled that drug possession charges like those filed against Blake criminalize “essentially innocent conduct,” as well as “passive conduct — or nonconduct — that is unaccompanied by (intent or knowledge of a crime).” Prior to Thursday’s ruling, the burden was on defendants like Blake to prove that they were unwittingly in possession of small amounts of drugs.
In the wake of that decision, SPD issued a news release Thursday saying that simple drug possession “is no longer an arrestable offense,” and “cannot be used as a legal basis to seize an individual.” Officers will also no longer confiscate drugs from an individual in cases related to simple possession.
“This ruling does not impact any other charges that may be evident to officers during an encounter,” SPD clarified. “This ruling also does not limit officers’ ability to conduct investigations involving other illegal drug activity. However, officers must have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to investigate those other crimes.”
Simple drug possession was previously a felony in Washington state, punishable by up to five years in prison.
In the wake of the state Supreme Court’s ruling, advocates believe that there could potentially be “thousands upon thousands” of possession convictions that could be retroactively thrown out, including Blake’s.