Washington State plans to vacate the charges of over 200,000 felony drug possession convictions dating back to the 1970s, with an additional 150,000 misdemeanor drug charges also potentially eligible.
According to a press release by Washington Courts, the landmark State vs Blake decision issued on February 25, 2021 by the Washington Supreme Court, ruled that the state’s drug possession law was unconstitutional and void because it did not require individuals to have knowledge of the drug possession. As a result, those convicted of drug possession on or before February 25, 2021 became eligible to have their convictions vacated and removed from their criminal record, and their paid court-ordered fines and costs — called legal financial obligations (LFOs) — reimbursed.
It is estimated that over 200,000 felony drug possession charges dating back to the 1970s may be eligible to be vacated in superior courts. An estimated additional 150,000 misdemeanor marijuana charges may also be eligible for vacation.
“A centralized bureau that will administer reimbursements to individuals for fines or costs ordered by the courts, in connection with drug possession convictions that were found unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court, will launch in July, 2023”, says the press release.
To help offset costs to courts, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, the Washington State legislature approved $47 million for the efforts of vacating hundreds of thousands of possession charges, and adjusting sentences for thousands of incarcerated or supervised persons.
An additional $50 million dollars was set aside to reimburse individuals who paid LFOs as a result of the Blake related convictions. AOC was appointed to lead the work, including establishing a Blake Refund Bureau to administer LFO refunds to impacted individuals.
Development of the Blake Refund Bureau, which will operate through an online portal, is led by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) in collaboration with local courts and county clerks, public defenders, prosecutors, impacted individuals, advocacy groups and other stakeholders.
“The intent is to have a process that is easy to navigate and will provide for a timely response for individuals to receive their refunds,” said AOC Blake Implementation Manager Sharon Swanson. “The public will be able to search for their cases by their name or case number.”
The Blake Refund Bureau portal will be accessible to the public via a link on www.courts.wa.gov. The refund bureau will provide individuals who have had their Blake convictions vacated a self-navigable database to determine if they have refunds related to their convictions. Refund requests will be submitted through an online application. Once the application has been received and an amount of refund is confirmed by the court, a refund will be issued.
Said Washington State Court Administrator Dawn Marie Rubio, “The Administrative Office of the Courts is dedicated to working with our justice partners to help inform the vast and diverse Blake-impacted population across Washington State about the potentially life-changing relief opportunities now available to them — collectively working to foster fresh starts and make people whole again.”