Dismissal of Drug Charges Causes ‘Fear,’ ‘Confusion’ Among Some Recovering Users in Lewis County


By Emily Fitzgerald / emily@chronline.com

One would possibly suppose that having your felony prices dismissed can be a trigger for celebration, however for members of Lewis County’s Drug Courtroom program, the environment the day they discovered of a current state Supreme Courtroom determination that meant Lewis County was dismissing their possession of a managed substance prices was something however celebratory.

“There have been undoubtedly a number of feelings on the assembly with the members who can be affected,” mentioned Drug Courtroom Supervisor Stephanie Miller.

“There was shock, worry, crying, and I’d say undoubtedly a number of confusion.”

Lewis County Drug Courtroom, now in its sixteenth 12 months, permits these confronted with sure drug-related felony convictions the choice to enroll in a court-supervised, long-term rehabilitation program  with the promise that their prices will likely be formally dismissed upon commencement.

Of Drug Courtroom’s 47 members, 17 had been ejected from the therapy program after the Washington state Supreme Courtroom issued a ruling on Feb. 25 that struck down the state’s felony drug possession regulation and subsequently required the county prosecutor to formally dismiss all possession of a managed substance prices filed underneath that statute.

“The individuals who had been affected had been in all completely different phases of this system, varied levels of their very own restoration journey,” Miller mentioned. “We tried to work with them to determine one of the best ways to individually assist individuals. They will completely nonetheless go to therapy … so there’s nonetheless a number of assist locally. They simply misplaced the accountability of the court docket.”

And for a lot of, corresponding to Drug Courtroom graduate Brant Byrd, that accountability was key to getting clear.

“I struggled with drug dependancy and I couldn’t get by it by myself. I couldn’t do it. I wished to, and I couldn’t,” he mentioned.

Byrd entered Drug Courtroom after he was charged with possession of an uncontrolled substance and took two years to complete this system, which he mentioned was a necessary step in his restoration.

“There’s so many various (therapy) locations. There’s so many out there to individuals. It’s simply getting them there, and that’s the place the courts assist,” he mentioned. “Getting simply these easy prices may assist them go get an evaluation and get into therapy and discover a new approach to stay.”

Native regulation enforcement have expressed frustration and concern that, with out the accountability of a felony cost in court docket, drug use throughout the group will rise and result in different extra critical crimes.

“A majority of crimes which are dedicated are dedicated by people who’ve drug dependancy,” mentioned Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza, citing situations of housebreaking, theft, home violence and assault that had been motivated by or related to a defendant’s drug dependancy. “And the way are we addressing the foundation reason for all this? That’s going to be the problem, as a result of … when you not have that leverage, how do you get out of dependancy? How do you get therapy?”

Centralia Police Chief Stacey Denham mentioned that his officers had been “shocked and disenchanted” once they discovered of the Supreme Courtroom determination.

“It’s making it very troublesome for my officers solely as a result of my officers are very proactive they usually have an absolute ardour for his or her group and serving to their group and defending it, they usually really feel that that is affecting their capacity to do this,” he mentioned.

Whereas most felony drug prices, corresponding to possession with intent to ship, manufacture of a managed substance and supply of a managed substance, are unaffected by the ruling, regulation enforcement can not arrest or cost anybody for possession of a managed substance.

The cost is taken into account a Class C felony in Washington, which carries a most sentence of as much as 5 years in jail and fines as much as $10,000, together with a lack of voting rights whereas incarcerated or in group custody.

The possession prices that landed Byrd in Drug Courtroom had been formally dismissed when he graduated from this system, and whereas he mentioned he’s been contacted not too long ago about earlier possession convictions which have been dismissed from his file on account of the ruling, he mentioned he’s much less involved about his personal previous convictions than he’s anxious for the Drug Courtroom members who simply misplaced a vital piece of accountability.

“For me and the fellows that I used to be in restoration with who went to Drug Courtroom, and are profitable and have made it by and proceed on — it’s not about that, and we’re not pondering of ourselves,” he mentioned. “We’re pondering, ‘oh my God, what if (Drug Courtroom) wasn’t there for us? None of us can be sitting round this desk having espresso and attempting to raised ourselves.’”

Miller mentioned that Drug Courtroom members whose prices weren’t dismissed had comparable reactions to the announcement.

“The truth is it didn’t simply have an effect on the individuals whose instances ended up being dismissed from this system, but it surely actually affected the people who find themselves nonetheless in this system, they usually questioned ‘what would we do with that call,’ and most of them had been glad that they didn’t should make that call and that they might be capable to proceed with their Drug Courtroom program,” Miller mentioned.

The Feb. 25 Supreme Courtroom determination (State v. Blake) stemmed from a 2016 possession of an uncontrolled substance conviction the place a Spokane lady was discovered responsible, regardless of not figuring out she had medication on her individual on the time of her arrest. The court docket dominated 5-4 in Blake’s favor, placing down the statute that led to her conviction till it’s amended.

Sixteen state senators, together with Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, have sponsored a invoice (SB 5468) that will add the phrase “knowingly” to the statute’s language, in order that it might learn “it’s illegal for any individual to knowingly possess a managed substance,” and instantly reenact the statute with the amended language.

The invoice was launched on March 1 and referred to the Committee on Regulation and Justice, however there may be concern that it received’t make it to the ground earlier than the legislative session ends in April.

In the meanwhile, Denham mentioned that in lieu of arresting individuals on felony drug possession prices, Centralia cops will take alternatives to arrest individuals for possession of drug paraphernalia — a misdemeanor cost.

“Once we take a look at it, we take a look at how we’re greatest going to serve our group, how we’re going to greatest shield our group, as a result of these kind of crimes … often result in various kinds of crimes like housebreaking and theft of motor automobiles, issues of that nature,” he mentioned.

“We’ll work throughout the confines of the regulation and transfer ahead,” Snaza mentioned. “And we’re not going to surrender on our communities. We’re going to proceed to combat and go after those that proceed to commit crimes.”




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