Inslee commutes sentence of 350th low-level drug offender

Inslee
Ted S. Warren
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill into law, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Following a landmark decision in the State of Washington v. Blake case—deeming simple drug possession statutes unconstitutional in Feb. 2021—Washington Governor Jay Inslee has commuted the sentences of 350 low-level drug offenders.

Under the new process established by criteria decided in the Blake decision, Inslee opened a petition process to commute the sentences of people under active community supervision for some drug possession convictions.

This law applies to people prosecuted only on drug convictions that are no longer valid under WA state law. People who were convicted on other crimes are not elgibile to partake in this process—though applying for re-sentencing may be an option for some offenders.

READ: New Washington state law makes drug possession a misdemeanor

“COVID has created countless challenges in our criminal justice system. And February’s Blake decision compounded those challenges,” Inslee said. “Though the State Supreme Court has invalidated the drug possession convictions of thousands of individuals, many of these individuals have not been able to get into court to have their convictions vacated and dismissed, even six months after the Supreme Court’s decision.”

The Governor’s Office confirms that there are currently 1,200 people under Department of Corrections (DOC) supervision for since-invalitated convictions.

In May 2021, Inslee signed a new law that converts low-level drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Not only did this pave the way for some non-violent convicts to earn a new lease on life, but it addressed a systemic discrepancy that dispraportionately impacted Washington state’s minority populations.

RECENT: Washington Governor commutes more drug possession convictions

Inslee commuted the sentences of 13 people in mid-April to begin this statewide shift. Since then, he’s commtued the sentences of hundreds of other Washingtonians. Even so, there seem to be hundreds more waiting for their opporutunity to be freed.

“I am committed to doing what I can to try to remedy the situation and assist the courts who are doing what they can to get through this backlog of cases,” Inslee said. “I want to thank the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) and State Office of Public Defense (OPD) for stepping up to help me provide clemency relief to eligible petitioners.”

In addition to commuting these sentences, the Governor is offering relief to eligible people who are obligated to pay legal fees for their prior convictions and to complete this commutation process.

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