Group sues Washington state, pair of counties over drug possession cases

A group of defense attorneys is suing the state, King, and Snohomish counties, to recover penalties paid in simple drug possession cases.

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In late February, the state Supreme Court ruled the state’s felony simple drug possession law was unconstitutional. The courts argument was rooted in the idea that the state’s existing statute did not distinguish between knowing and unknowing possession. Prior to that ruling, Washington was the only state that did not make that distinction.

One of the downstream effects was that without a new, updated state statute in place, cities could no longer make arrests for simple drug possession. Cities like Marysville have taken it upon themselves to make adjustments at the local level, but larger concerns remain statewide.

Now, the Civil Survival Project is filing a class action suit, representing all those convicted of simple possession of narcotics. It will include about 500,000 cases, stretching all the way back to the 1970s.

“This will be millions and millions of dollars that people are owed because they were convicted in an unconstitutional way, and have paid court fines and fees,” Civil Survival Project Director Tarra Simmons told KIRO Radio.

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Simmons describes the group she’s representing as those who were “wrongfully convicted” by a statute that’s now null and void, arguing that they “made their payments and should be made whole.”

The lawsuit will also seek to cancel any outstanding debt accrued as a result of court fees for simple possession cases.

A state level bill that would update the state’s drug possession statute is still currently in committee. The text of the bill exactly mirrors the previous statute the court struck down, with the exception of updated language specifying that it would be a felony to knowingly possess small quantities of illicit drugs in Washington state.