Frequently Asked Questions
- Why file a lawsuit now? What is it about?
On February 25, 2021, the Washington Supreme Court decided that the statute in Washington that criminalizes simple possession of drugs is unconstitutional. The Court, in a case entitled State of Washington v. Blake, recognized that RCW 69.50.4013, which does not require the state to prove a mental state element, had consequences that were so severe that it violated the due process rights of people charged under the statute. Over the last several years, innumerable Washingtonians have been convicted under the statute and been required to pay legal financial obligations (LFOs) in connection with their convictions. LFOs are the fines, fees, assessments, costs and other monies paid in relation to a conviction.
This lawsuit seeks to stop the ongoing collection of LFOs related to simple drug possession convictions by the state and all counties, and also seeks refunds of money paid for these LFO payments. This is a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the Civil Survival Project (CSP), a non-profit organization, and three class representatives Irene Slagle, Christina Zawaideh, and Julia Reardon. As a class action against the state and every county, this case seeks to cover every person in Washington convicted for simple possession across the state. The case is currently pending and no issues have been decided yet.
- What is The Civil Survival Project (CSP)?
CSP is a project run by formerly incarcerated people, working to advance rights and opportunities of formerly incarcerated people. More information about the project can be found here. CSP’s fundamental mission is to address the harmful impacts of the criminal legal system on our communities, and in particular Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. CSP’s goal is to eliminate the barriers people face in all areas of life, based on prior criminal convictions. People with prior convictions face thousands of financial and legal barriers to reentry, and CSP utilizes organizing, policy, and litigation to address those barriers.
- Why was this lawsuit filed on behalf of CSP?
CSP has advocated to alleviate the financial burdens imposed by the criminal legal system on currently and formerly incarcerated people. Over the last five years, CSP has been involved in reforming the LFO system, recognizing that the imposition of criminal debt on individuals trapped in the criminal legal system tethers people to the system for years. Studies show that LFOs burden communities of color for a longer time, post-conviction. This lawsuit addresses the impact of legal financial obligations on people who have been convicted under the statute found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
- Who are the individuals named in the lawsuit?
Irene Slagle, Christina Zawaideh, and Julia Reardon are the individual plaintiffs representing all Washingtonians across the state who have been convicted of simple possession and forced to pay LFOs. As detailed in the amended complaint, these women have all had extremely challenging experiences with the criminal legal system related to now-unconstitutional drug convictions.
Between them, they have not only paid LFOs in relation to their convictions, but also continue to owe LFOs. The requirement to pay LFOs has had deep impacts on their respective lives. Nevertheless, they have made difficult and successful efforts to address the impacts of the convictions and LFOs on their lives.
They also have inspiring stories of recovery, leadership, and advocacy for others, overcoming addiction and past entanglement with the criminal legal system. In fact, all of the class representatives are now devoting their lives and careers to social services on behalf of marginalized Washingtonians caught at the intersection of drug use, poverty, and the crimes precipitated by those problems. They are a model for how the state and counties should approach these issues – a distinct break from the carceral and debt-imposing approach of the past.
- What relief does the lawsuit seek?
Because simple drug possession convictions have been ruled unconstitutional, this lawsuit simply seeks to cancel any debt imposed as a result of such convictions and refund any payments made for such debts. Washingtonians should not be forced to pay money for convictions that are unconstitutional, and if they have done so already, they should get that money back.
The lawsuit asks for statewide relief by filing suit against a class of defendants that includes every county in the State of Washington. This is particularly important because the impacts of these convictions have been felt by people across the state. For years, people have been subjected to the harms of policing and prosecution under RCW 69.50.4013. Once convicted, people were ordered to pay various fines, fees, and costs, that are used to fund the criminal legal system across the state. The practice of funding the criminal legal system through money paid by system-involved people is problematic on its own – and that’s been made even worse in this instance as individuals have been paying into the system in connection to convictions under an unconstitutional statute.
- What is the status of the case?
It is important to note that this lawsuit is still pending and none of the issues challenged through the lawsuit have been decided. The case website will be updated as the case develops. However, it is important to note that until further direction from the Washington courts or legislature, you may still be required to pay any and all LFOs imposed against you.
- Does this lawsuit seek to vacate or void my past convictions?
No. This lawsuit does not seek to vacate or void past convictions for simple possession. This lawsuit is related only to LFOs imposed as a result of simple possession convictions, not the convictions themselves. People who pled down to simple possession from a more serious charge should consult a criminal defense attorney regarding other relief from these convictions.
- Does this lawsuit apply to people who pled guilty to or were convicted of Possession with Intent to Deliver, or only simple Possession?
We can seek relief for LFOs paid related to simple possession convictions only – not Possession with Intent (PWI).
- Does this apply to people who were charged with more serious drug charges (such as Possession with Intent, or Delivery of A Controlled Substance) and then pled down to simple possession?
Yes, what is important for this lawsuit is what you are actual conviction was for (not your initial charge). Therefore, it is likely that we can pursue relief for LFOs paid for a simple possession conviction even if the original charge was a more serious drug offense that you ultimately negotiated down.
As noted above, however, if you are seeking to vacate or void your past conviction, particularly if you were initially charged with a more serious offense, you should consult a criminal defense attorney regarding other relief from these convictions.
- Is there anything that I can do to help?
Yes! If you have a conviction for simple drug possession under RCW 69.50.4013 or RCW 69.50.401(d), please contact us at www.lforestitution.com. Learning about your experiences is very important to us and will assist us in demonstrating the scope of the impact of simple drug possession on people in the state of Washington. We recognize that those convictions have created a hardship for people across the state of Washington, and the purpose of this lawsuit is to help right those wrongs.