Washington lost the distinction of having one of the strictest drug laws in the nation on Thursday, when the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
In a 5-4 decision, the state’s high court said the state’s strict liability law for felony drug possession went beyond the state’s policing power.
The ruling, State V. Blake, was in a case out of Spokane County. A defendant arrested for a non-drug crime was searched at the county jail, and a corrections officer found a small baggie of methamphetamine in a coin pocket of her jeans. At trial, she used a “those weren’t my pants” defense. Her attorney said it was a case of unwitting possession. The defendant testified a friend had given her the jeans two days prior to her arrest, and had bought them at a secondhand store.
Prosecutors did not prove that the defendant had known the drugs were in her pocket.
Under state law, possession of a controlled substance is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. A person found guilty can also be ordered to pay a substantial fine and, as a convicted felon, lose rights and opportunities, the court noted.
“This case presents an issue of first impression for the court,” wrote Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud in the majority opinion. “Does this strict liability drug possession statute with these substantial penalties for such innocent, passive conduct exceed the legislature’s police power? The due process clauses of the state and federal constitutions, along with controlling decisions of this court and the United States Supreme Court, compel us to conclude that the answer is yes – this exceeds the State’s police power.”