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PRESS RELEASE: Supreme Court Ruling That Voids Statute Has Potential Implications for Sentences Imposed by Courts

Released March 5, 2021

Contact Susan Biller DOC Communications

TUMWATER – A recent state Supreme Court ruling that voids Washington’s simple possession of a controlled substance statute may have possible implications for sentences imposed by the courts. On February 25, 2021 the Washington State Supreme Court issued an opinion in State of Washington v. Blake (pdf), declaring that RCW 69.50.4013 (Washington’s simple possession of a controlled substance statute) violates the due process clause of the state and federal constitutions and is therefore void.

The role of the Washington State Department of Corrections is to carry out sentences imposed by courts. The department does not have the authority to amend or correct judgments and sentences. The department cannot unilaterally correct a judgment and sentence and must wait for the court to issue an order vacating conviction, amending judgment, dismissal or directing release.

This means that further direction from the courts will be necessary in the process of determining next steps. The department is working with the Office of the Attorney General to understand the decision and its potential impacts. The ruling could impact some judgements, and the department is communicating with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Washington State Office of Public Defense.

The department has initially identified a number of individuals potentially impacted by this decision. Further analysis is being conducted to determine additional individuals who may also be potentially impacted.

Estimated Number of Individuals as of February 28, 2021 Impacted with a Conviction of Simple Possession

  • Fewer than 100 people statewide who are incarcerated only on a simple possession conviction.
  • Fewer than 7,000 people statewide who have been sentenced to community supervision on a simple possession conviction.

The Washington State Department of Corrections will continue to work with stakeholders involved with the courts to assess the impacts and the implications of State v. Blake as the courts determine which cases, convictions, and individuals, are affected.