Seattle police told not to arrest for drug possession after controversial court ruling

The Washington State Supreme Court overturned the state's felony drug possession, law ruling it 'unconstitutional' after petitioner’s presented arguments to the court during a hearing early Thursday.

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA

The Washington State Supreme Court overturned the state's felony drug possession, law ruling it 'unconstitutional' after petitioner’s presented arguments to the court during a hearing early Thursday. Under Washington State law RCW 69.50.4013, possession of a controlled substance was previously a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a hefty fine.

Now because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, law enforcement officers across Washington State will no longer be making arrests or issuing citations for possession of drugs.

Petitioner Shannon Blake argued before the state Supreme Court, that Washington’s strict liability drug possession statute violates both state and federal constitutions. Blake argued that the statute "leads to deprivation of numerous other rights and opportunities; and does all this without proof that the defendant even knew they possessed the substance" in the first place.

In 2016, petitioner Shannon Blake was arrested after the Spokane Police Department issued an arrest warrant, seeking evidence of a stolen vehicle which ultimately led to Blake’s arrest.

Upon Blake’s arrival at the correctional facility, a corrections officer found a small bag containing methamphetamine in Blake’s jean pockets, resulting in an automatic felony offense. The petitioner argued that the methamphetamine was not hers, but because she was in possession, she received a felony anyway.

Blake argued that she was never granted a fair due process as the court gave her a guilty verdict before listening to her arguments, simply because possession of drugs was an automatic felony based on the statute.

Thursday, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in her favor and overturned the statute. The Post Millennial obtained an email that was sent to the Seattle Police Department from the Seattle City Attorney’s office, in which city officials notified the department of the new changes and ordered police officers to stop making arrests for possession of drugs, effective immediately. "This is urgent information. Please talk to you legal advisors, criminal chiefs for direction on what to do moving forward. RCW 69.50.4013-possession of drugs was declared unconstitutional today by the WASC," the email stated.

"While the legislature can change this prospectively (such action is doubtful), police officers must immediately stop making arrests for simple possession of drugs. No search warrants. No detentions upon suspicion of simple possession awaiting canine units, etc."

"You will need to advise your officers as to whether officers should still seize the unlawful drugs as contraband or leave them in possession of the individual," the email continued.

These changes come right after the Seattle Police Department performed multiple undercover drug operations, arresting multiple drug dealers in the downtown corridor, along with those in possession of drugs. Those suspects have already been released.

In the Seattle Police Department blotter, a Wednesday undercover drug operation resulted in the seizure of an assortment of illegal narcotics, the recovery of two stolen guns, and the arrest of five alleged criminals.

The City of Seattle had already been facing an extensive opioid and mental health crisis, now because of the overturned law resulting in less accountability by the offenders, many speculate the crisis is bound to get worse.

The email informing the Seattle Police Department to immediately cease the arrests of criminals for simple drug possession was sent by Pam Loginsky, a staff attorney with Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Because the email notified law enforcement officers demanding them of the new changes, this means that Washington State Attorney’s never appealed the overturn of the law, thereby accepting the results of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Seattle Police Department released a statement Thursday afternoon regarding the new changes in policy. "The Seattle Police Department will follow the law and has already issued this directive, effective immediately. This morning the Washington State Supreme Court ruled RCW 69.50.4013 unconstitutional. RCW 69.50.4013, also known to as simple drug possession, is no longer an arrestable offense. It also cannot be used as a legal basis to seize an individual. What does this mean for officers?"

The statement continued, "Effective immediately, officers will no longer detain nor arrest individuals under RCW 69.50.4013 alone. Officers will no longer confiscate drugs from an individual based only on a violation of RCW 69.50.4013. This ruling does not impact any other charges that may be evident to officers during an encounter. 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, and those other crimes cannot rely nor be based upon RCW 69.50.4013 as the underlying crime."

According to a report by the Washington State Department of Health, drug overdose deaths in Washington State rose nearly 40 percent in the year of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country. Officials linked the rise in deaths largely to the state’s opioid crisis, specifically individuals who overdosed from the highly addictive and dependent opioid fentanyl.

The rest of the country experienced record-breaking overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) released new data indicating the sharp rise in drug overdose deaths that hit the country during the pandemic.

"While most attention and government resources have been focused on COVID-19, the overdose crisis has worsened as people struggle with job losses, isolation, and the deaths of family and friends brought on by the pandemic," reported The Hill. "More than 83,000 people in the U.S. are thought to have died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending June, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record-breaking number."

After facing pushback regarding the ruling by the State Supreme Court, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg released a statement. "Today’s State Supreme Court decision ruled that the state statute prohibiting the simple possession of controlled substances is unconstitutional. We are analyzing the impacts and potential retroactive application of this decision."

The statement continued, "While there will be a significant amount of work necessary to comply with this ruling in the courthouses throughout the state, it is equally important that the Legislature take steps now to amend this statute to correct the defect found by the Supreme Court. The Legislature should act with a sense of urgency to add the necessary elements to make this statute constitutional this session, and not leave a defective statute on the books."

Satterberg, who is notorious for his 'revolving door' justice policies and unwillingness to prosecute repeat criminal offenders, emphasized, "The drug cases we prosecute each week are focused on people dealing drugs in King County, and we file charges almost exclusively against people with repeat criminal behavior or a history of violence."

Satterberg added, "We know that treatment is the answer to substance use disorder and the overdose crisis we face today. In King County, we haven’t prosecuted anyone caught in possession of less than a gram of any drug since 2018. The court system is not set up to help individuals caught with tiny amounts of drugs. It certainly is not a conduit to treatment as we currently structure and fund it."


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