New state grant allows Benton County drug possession convictions to be expunged off of record

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. — If you have a controlled substance possession conviction from Benton County, a new Washington state grant will help you expunge it from your record.

This comes after a Washington Supreme Court decision on State v. Blake ruled the current drug possession laws are unconstitutional.

According to a news release, “anybody who has a conviction from Benton County Superior Court for Possession of a Controlled Substance” is eligible.

You do not need to be currently incarcerated or under the supervision of the Department of Corrections, the release said.

There is also no limit to the number of cases someone can have vacated, nor does it matter if the conviction is old or recent.

Michael Vander Sys, the chief trial attorney for the Benton County Office of Public Defense, said the grant will provide funding for legal and attorneys fees and costs for getting convictions vacated.

“They’re making the resources available to help people who otherwise couldn’t afford to do it themselves,” Vander Sys said. “The hope is that by having a clean record and by no longer having this conviction holding them back, they’re able to move forward in a positive way.”

Vander Sys said that might include passing background checks, getting certain jobs, or gaining approval for apartments.

“It’s a significant impact to the community because there’s a lot of people out there who have if not one, perhaps multiple convictions for possession of a controlled substance,” Vander Sys said.

Mark McKee is a Tri-Cities resident who plans on using the grant funding to clear a charge he received in 2015.

“I’ve been arrested in Benton County over two dozen times, four times in Franklin [County], three times in Colfax, one trip to Walla Walla state penitentiary,” McKee said. “It all is a result of my drug addiction.”

McKee said while he believes the state has good intentions with the funding, he wishes it could be used to help addicts recover and provide guidance for second chances.

“I believe in my heart that the state is missing out on a great opportunity to rehabilitate some individuals,” McKee said. “That funding could go back into either employment opportunities or mentorship.”

McKee said surrounding oneself with like-minded individuals who are trying to make a difference in their lives is key when it comes to critically needed support.

That’s why he started Clean Sweep Tri-Cities, a faith-based nonprofit organization that gives back to the region while encouraging its volunteers to get clean.

McKee said if the funding went toward detoxification centers or in-patient treatment centers, it could have a bigger impact on the people it would serve and the community as a whole while potentially decreasing the rising crime rate in the area.

“If I had the choice of keeping the felony and saving someone else’s life or leading someone into recovery, I would gladly keep the felony,” McKee said.

Officials said no local tax dollars will be used for the program as 100% of it is funded by the state.

“Benton County contracts with the law firm of Betancourt Law, PLLC to handle all requests for help on vacating of convictions pursuant to State v. Blake. Attorneys from Betancourt Law, PLLC will be available to provide you with free legal advice about your rights under this case. They will also represent you in court to get your eligible conviction(s) vacated,” the release said.

To reach Betancourt Law, PLLC, you can call (509) 827-7763 or email them at blake@betancourtlawpllc.com.

Be sure to have information about your eligible cases (case number and case name) available when you contact them so they can screen for eligibility.

People who have previously paid toward court fines or court costs may also be eligible to get their money back, officials said.

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