Note from Melissa Schmitt, She-EO of Adopt an Inmate: My husband Jacob (he tells the story below the player) is what they call a “jailhouse lawyer.” He has a heart of gold, and a compulsion to help everyone around him, especially with their legal work. Within hours of the Blake decision (linked below), Jacob wrote and filed a motion for a fellow prisoner in WA DOC, to vacate his now-unconstitutional sentence. Jacob was actually able to walk his friend out the door on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. The following day, I received this voice mail (his voice is weakened by COPD, but the joy is clear):
On February 25, 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled (in State v Blake) that Washington State’s possession of a controlled substance law violated the due process clause of both the Washington State and U.S. Constitution. I know there has been much controversy and debate over this, and I’ll address that after I tell you how Blake has returned hope to a life gone hopeless.
It was sheer coincidence and fortune that I talked with my attorney (and friend) Jeff Ellis on the morning of February 25th, just an hour after the Blake opinion was published. An hour later I was in the institution law library, where I announced our Court’s holding in Blake. That is what the law library is for — contrary to popular belief, it isn’t some insidious meeting place where prisoners figure out how to sue DOC. Rather, it is where we share knowledge — and in this instance: hope.
An old man turned around from his computer and told me that he is serving a life sentence on a third strike for a simple possession. Even though the fear mongers tell the public that people have committed a violent crime in order to be sentenced to life as a third striker in Washington, that is a lie. Possession of a firearm (which is not a violent crime) while being in possession of drugs (which is not a violent crime) is a strike. In this case, the man was arrested for having a gun in January of 2007, and when booked into jail, a ziplock baggie with meth residue was found in his pocket. His sentence for the fireams? Less than 4 years. His sentence for the ziplock baggie? Life without the possibility of parole.
Just over 14 years later, I’m standing in the law library telling him what he is afraid to believe — that he is going free…and that I would help him.
Ultimately, all that I really did was know who to call: Rene Alsept. She jumped right in, and with the help of the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office (thank you for your humanity!), and a Judge committed to justice, the man (who’s name I cannot mention lest the mailroom Gestapo censor this missive!) is free right now, in the arms of his wife. After serving 14 years, with a destiny to die in a prison cell, he is a free man.
As for the righteousness of our Court’s holding in Blake. Again, the fear mongers would mislead the public and say that our Court is moving to decriminalize drug possession (as the Sheriff of Island County posted). However, that is not what happened. The law that our Court struck down did not require proof of knowledge — and that is the cornerstone of American Jurisprudence. The fact that no one will lose life or liberty without proof beyond a reasonable doubt (established by the government) that a person had a “guilty mind” (mens rea).
Allowing people to be arrested, incarcerated, and have legal financial obligations imposed, without ever proving they had knowledge or intent to possess drugs — that is precisely what the founders of the United States Constitution sought to protect Americans from.
The five Justices that struck down this unconscionable law deserve to be applauded for their commitment to what is right — and for their courage in pursuing it.
Tonight, as I fall asleep, I’ll still be sad that I am in this concrete tomb, separate from my loving wife. But I’ll be smiling because there’s an old man who is in his wife’s arms…and hopefully not sleeping!