Have you heard about the Washington State Supreme Court decriminalizing drug possession? Did you know that they *did not* decriminalize drug possession? That’s just been a popular bullet point so the police can get your support in re-criminalizing innocent people and infringing on their constitutional rights.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in February 2021, to decriminalize drug possession based on knowledge and intent. Previously the standard was based on State v. Blake, which criminalized unintentional and unknowing drug possession.
This means that the burden comes down to the prosecution to prove the accused knew there were drugs in their possession. It doesn’t mean that the police cannot arrest someone who is in possession of drugs. It means that they cannot charge them with a crime if they don’t have evidence that they knew there was drugs in their possession.
An example of this would be during a traffic stop. If an uber driver is pulled over and drugs are found in the car, previously the driver of the vehicle would have gone to jail and charged for possession regardless of how many people could have left the drugs there.
Now the WA State Supreme Court has ruled that intent and knowledge must be factored in and has been decriminalized. They can still be arrested, just not charged. You can be arrested for anything, but they can’t hold you if they don’t have evidence of a crime. Their ruling simply brings the drug and possession statutes in line with other crimes in the State.
To illustrate this the Supreme Court said in their ruling:
“The key distinction between this simple possession statute and other, valid, strict liability crimes is that the former statute penalizes passive and innocent nonconduct (without mens rea) while the latter statutes do not. For example, to prove that a defendant practiced law unlawfully, the State must show that the defendant actually “practice[d] law, or [held] himself or herself out as entitled to practice law.” RCW 2.48.180(2)(a).”
This is what some counties in Washington State, including Chelan and Douglas, are fighting for. The ability to arrest people for unknowingly possessing drugs and prosecute them without first proving that they were the individuals responsible for the drugs, let alone that they were aware of their existence in the first place.
This issue was brought before the Supreme Court because a woman purchased a pair of pants from a friend which had methamphetamines in the tiny coin pocket of the jeans. She had no idea it was there, but because it was in the jeans, she was arrested and convicted on drug possession, even though people testified to the fact that they had never witnessed her do drugs. The state is not your parents and jail isn’t a curfew, simply discovering something in someone’s possession shouldn’t be enough to imprison them.
News outlets, including the Wenatchee World, have been shamefully referring to this Supreme Court decision as decriminalizing drug possession, which is inaccurate and misleading. This lends support to the narrative perpetuated by the police departments, that they can no longer arrest people for possession.
Unlike what county officials and their media allies have argued people can still be arrested for possession, it just becomes harder to prosecute them if they are innocent. Which is something we should be fighting for, not against. I find it increasingly hard to believe that the same department, who will arrest someone for resisting arrest, is having a hard time arresting anyone.
By passing additional provisions to weaken the Supreme Court Ruling, Chelan and Douglas Counties are actually undermining your rights as a Washington State citizen.
I can only speculate as to why these counties want to diminish the civil rights of their residents. We all enjoy it when our jobs are easier plus let’s face it there is substantial revenue to be made from jail housing, court filing fees, probation fees, restitution payments and so forth. It might seem jaded to speculate that money is a motivation in this, however there is good reason for it.
The city of Wenatchee bases how much they give the Regional Justice Center which houses the county’s inmates based on the number of inmates in the jails.
An excerpt from an article in the Wenatchee World two weeks before the Supreme Court determination in February 2021:
“Years ago, the city paid a fixed fee based on the ranges of inmates, which generally fluctuated between 40 and 50.
“If we were between 40 to 45, we were paying about $1.5 million and if it was over 50, then somewhere around $1.76 million,” Mayor Frank Kuntz said. “That worked fine for a number of years until the county came to us with an increase from $1.5 million to $1.8 million. We couldn’t get anywhere with them so I asked about giving us the same contract as Entiat, Leavenworth and Chelan: $96 a day.”
“The county then bumped up the rate to $120 a day going into 2020 to make up for fewer inmates, which figured out to about $1.5 million in the city’s budget.”
Because of the pandemic, there were more compassionate releases and very few inmates being housed, which meant the Regional Justice Center only received $500,000 rather than the normal $1.5 million from the City of Wenatchee.
This is the only reason I can see why the counties are pushing for criminalization of innocent people. Not because they are trying to protect our communities, as they’ve said. Instead it’s to make sure that they have a much easier time keeping those numbers up.
These provisions were passed by city councils, so it’s time to let them know we don’t want innocent people to suffer.
The Douglas County Commissioners contact information can be found here:
Dan Sutton, District 1 Commissioner
Phone: 509-745-8537 Email: email@example.com
Kyle Steinburg, Vice Chair, District 2
Phone: 509-745-8537 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marc Straub, Chair, District 3
Phone: 509-745-8537 Email: email@example.com
The Chelan County Commissioners contact information can be found here:
Kevin Overbay, Commissioner District 1
Phone: (509) 667-6215 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Bugert, Commissioner District 2
Phone: (509)667-6215 Email: email@example.com
Tiffany Gering, Commissioner District 3
Phone: (509)667-6884 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let them know we don’t want our constitutional right violated by prosecuting innocent people.
If you want to help, share this post to spread the word and post your own and make sure to use the hashtag: #DevilYourReps #DevilYourSenators
These people were elected by us. They work for us. They should not be passing unconstitutional provisions that undermine the State’s Supreme Court Ruling. Why are we giving police another excuse to provide sidewalk judgements?
Wenatchee World Article on decriminalization
Washington State Supreme Court Decision
Wenatchee World Article onCity of Wenatchee to cover the housing costs of inmates based on population