How a WA Supreme Court ruling changed a man’s life in Korea

A story posted to Reddit gave a man deported on a drug charge hope for reconnecting to his Washington state roots.

Washington state supreme court building

Washington State’s Supreme Court Building, also known as the Temple of Justice, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. (Jovelle Tamayo for Crosscut)

John first read about the Washington Supreme Court’s Blake decision on Reddit. Someone had posted a story I had written about the monumental ruling, which found the state’s law criminalizing drug possession to be unconstitutional. As John read the story, he began to realize that this ruling could have enormous implications for his life.

Twenty years earlier, John was deported from Washington state to Korea — a country he had left when he was an infant and had visited only once since — because of a drug charge. He was also found to be illegally possessing a firearm, but only because of the earlier arrest for drug possession.

That first story explaining the decision quoted a number of attorneys who all agreed that the court’s ruling meant anyone ever been charged for drug possession dating back to the 1970s could potentially have those charges dropped. Several attorneys also posited that any charge that grew out of drug possession — including illegal possession of a firearm — also deserved to be revisited. 

Since being forced to leave the United States, John has created a new life in Korea and does not want to move back. But much of his family still lives in Washington. He wants to visit the place where his father’s ashes had been scattered. He wants to meet his son-in-law in person. After two decades of searching for a path to return, the Blake decision gave John hope. 

So, after finishing Crosscut’s story, John reached out to Kelly Vomacka, an attorney who  quoted prominently in the article. She agreed to help him. 

Vomacka told me about John’s story. He agreed to talk and we spoke over the phone at 9 a.m. in Washington and 1 a.m. in Korea. The story I wrote was a personal one about John, but also about just how far the implications of Blake might stretch

This week, several days after we published the article about John, Vomacka sent me some news: The prosecuting attorney’s office in Clark County, where John had been arrested, said it would support dropping all the charges against him. A judge agreed. 

“For all purposes, including applications for employment, the defendant [John] may state that he has never been convicted of these offenses,” the judge wrote in his order. 

I haven’t spoken to John since the ruling came down. But, said Vomacka, “he’s making travel plans."

This story was first published in Crosscut's Weekly newsletter. Want to hear more from reporters like David Kroman? Sign up for the newsletter, below.

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