In 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the current language in RCW 69.50.4103 was unconstitutional and would no longer be sufficient as grounds for conviction. The possession of a controlled substance (PCS) statute did not have an adequate mens rea to the charge and was therefore, overbroad and insufficient.
Mens rea, or “guilty mind” is the level of intent that someone must have to commit that offense. Levels of intent can very from “knowingly” to “recklessly” or “negligently.” The person being charged must meet the intent level of a charge to be convicted. There are some cases where there is no mens rea, making cases strict liability. For example, driving under the influence (DUI) is a strict liability statute, so intent is not required.
In the current PCS statute, there is no intent written into the statute. However, the lack of intent does not create a strict liability statute, but an overbroad one that has potential to harm many people. An illustration best shows the implications of the old statute.
Imagine you are at the airport carrying a black backpack full of camera equipment. You’re waiting for your luggage and a person with the same backpack is standing beside you. Your luggage arrives, you get it, and you walk back to your bag. The other person has set their bag down beside yours. Thinking your bag is on the right, you pick it up and walk out of the airport.
All of a sudden, as you walk out, the police ask to search your bag. You comply because all you have is camera equipment. Except you picked up the wrong backpack and instead have the other person’s bag, where the police find two baggies of heroin. The old statute would convict you of possession of a controlled substance regardless of if you knew you had it or not.
The State v. Blake decision rendered this statute unconstitutional because it had the potential to criminalize otherwise perfectly innocent behavior.
Not only does this decision apply to pending cases, it’s retroactive and thus applies to all such cases for the past 50 years! If you have ever been convicted under RCW 69.50.4103, please contact our office or your public defender’s office to see how State v. Blake may change your history.