Gov. Inslee offers clemency for drug possession convictions invalidated by court ruling

Aug 17, 2021, 8:06 AM
bills, Inslee proclamations, drug possession...
Gov. Inslee signs a bill. (From the Office of the Governor)
(From the Office of the Governor)

Gov. Jay Inslee announced this week that he will be ramping up commutations for drug possession convictions invalidated by a recent state Supreme Court decision.

Lawmakers scramble to close drug possession loophole from court ruling

The Supreme Court of Washington’s early-2021 ruling in the State of Washington v. Shannon Blake (or more simply, the Blake decision) sought to end the arrest of people who unknowingly possess illicit drugs, and fix the fact that the state’s statute does not distinguish between knowing and unknowing possession. Prior that ruling, Washington was the only state that did not make that distinction.

The downstream effect, though, was that Washington’s existing statute that made simple drug possession of any kind a felony was essentially made null and void, throwing decades worth of convictions into question. That’s since led to a backup in state courts working to vacate existing drug possession cases, while already dealing with delays brought on by the pandemic.

Now, Gov. Inslee is hoping to provide some relief for courts with a new partnership between his office, the Department of Corrections, and Office of Public Defense. That will allow anyone on active community supervision for a simple drug possession case to petition the governor to commute their sentences.

No easy fix for WA Supreme Court decision legalizing drug possession

“I am committed to doing what I can to try to remedy the situation and assist the courts who are doing what they can to get through this backlog of cases,” Inslee said in a Monday news release.

According to Inslee’s office, he’s already signed nearly 130 commutations over the last week and a half, with plans to issue between 15 and 30 a day for the immediate future. There are 1,200 total people on active DOC community supervision for drug possession convictions invalidated by the Blake decision, all of whom are now eligible to petition the governor for a commutation.

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Gov. Inslee offers clemency for drug possession convictions invalidated by court ruling