Washington will be reimbursing legal fees for those prosecuted on drug charges that have now been deemed unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court as of 2021.
A fund of $47 million has been approved to vacate hundreds of thousands of possession charges and to reimburse the legal fees. A website – the Blake Refund Bureau – has been launched to facilitate applications for the reimbursements.
The state has estimated over 200,000 felony drug possession charges dating back to the 1970s may be eligible for the charges to be cancelled with an estimated additional 150,000 misdemeanour cannabis charges potentially being eligible for vacation.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled in the 2021 State vs Blake decision that the state’s drug possession law was unconstitutional. This was as it did not require individuals to have knowledge of the drug possession, leading to those convicted of drug possession before February 2021 being eligible to have convictions cancelled.
The centralized Blake Refund Bureau – led by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) – will administer reimbursements to individuals for fines or costs ordered by the courts.
At the announcement of the launch of the Bureau, AOC Blake Implementation Manager, Sharon Swanson, stated: “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. The public will be able to search for their cases by their name or case number.”
While the website will exclusively process Legal Financial Obligations (LFO) refunds, it will also feature resources for those seeking to clear their convictions.
Washington State Court Administrator Dawn Marie Rubio, added: “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.”