SEATTLE, WASHINGTON …. The class action lawsuit is filed on behalf of the Civil Survival Project (CSP), a non-profit organization, and three class representatives Irene Slagle, Christina Zawaideh, and Julia Reardon. Plaintiffs seek to stop the ongoing collection of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) related to simple drug possession convictions under what is now an unconstitutional and invalidated law.
CSP is asking Washington State, King County, and Snohomish County, and every other county in the state, to cancel all legal financial obligations imposed under the statute, and to return all funds paid to date by those sentenced for simple possession. On February 25, 2021 in State v. Blake, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington struck down RCW 69.50.4013, the state’s strict liability felony drug possession statute, as unconstitutional.
“Hundreds, if not thousands, of people owe LFOs toward convictions that have been deemed unconstitutional under State v. Blake. It’s time to make them whole and ensure that counties are no longer collecting LFOs on these convictions, and that we end this spiral of hardship,” said Prachi Dave, Policy and Advocacy Director, Public Defender Association (PDA), one of the attorneys bringing the lawsuit.
CSP wants the state and counties to undo the damage that criminalization of drug possession has caused by restoring funds and canceling outstanding debt owed from these convictions.
Class representative Zawaideh explained, “I have been personally impacted by convictions that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional under Blake. It is important to me that both myself, and people across the State of Washington are at least reimbursed for LFOs that we have paid towards our convictions. The LFOs have many of us choosing between food, housing costs, or education in order to pay these fees.”
For the past five years, CSP has worked to reform the LFO system, recognizing that the imposition of criminal debt on individuals trapped in the criminal legal system tethers people to the system for years. Studies show that LFOs burden communities of color for a longer time, post-conviction.