Having a controlled substance on your person could put you in a lot of trouble with the authorities. Controlled substances are typically defined as drugs that the possession and use of are regulated by the federal government.
While you may have a legal reason for carrying a controlled substance, like a prescription, the police might question its legitimacy during a stop. You could still face charges if they get the wrong impression, and the punishments for possession of a controlled substance in California are severe.
What is Possession of a Controlled Substance?
Illegal possession of a controlled substance is when a person has or possesses a drug or other controlled substance, like cocaine, heroin, marijuana, or methamphetamine, without permission or justification.
The California Health and Safety Code 11350(a) HS states that having a controlled substance without a valid prescription is illegal. It also defines various controlled substances and categorizes them under schedules.
Possession of a controlled substance is also known as “simple possession” or “drug possession” in legal terms. It is a misdemeanor offense under California’s Proposition 47, the current law guiding charges for possession of a controlled substance.
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Typical Punishments for Drug Possession
There are various punishments for drug possession, some worse than others. Possession of a controlled substance lies at an intersection between punishment and rehabilitation due to the possibility of addiction. Typical punishments include:
- Jail time: A person convicted of drug possession could serve time in jail. Sentences vary and will depend on the crime and the drugs involved. However, imprisonment can last anywhere from a few days to as much as ten years.
- Court fines: Many illegal possession convictions end with offenders paying fines. These can range anywhere from $100 to $100,000 or higher.
- Drug counseling or rehabilitation: Courts can also sentence a drug offender to drug treatment or a rehabilitation program instead of jail time. Rehabilitation can also be one of the requirements of a probation sentence.
- Probation: This is often imposed with other penalties like fines, imprisonment, or rehabilitation. Probation requires the offender to regularly check in with a probation officer and follow set conditions, such as not using drugs. Failure to comply with the terms could lead to imprisonment.
The punishment for possession of a controlled substance in California is determined by how the substance is categorized in the state’s “schedule.” The schedule is a list of controlled substances organized according to their danger level, treatment, and potential for harm.
The penalty is also subject to various factors, like the type and amount of drugs in possession, the person’s criminal history, and whether there was an intent to sell. Most times, this crime is considered a misdemeanor, but not always.
Can Possession of a Controlled Substance Become a Felony?
While Proposition 47 categorizes possession of a controlled substance as a misdemeanor, certain conditions must be met to qualify for it. Those with previous convictions are not protected by Proposition 47 and can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony.
Misdemeanor penalties include either a year in county jail and/or a fine of $1,000. However, possession of a controlled substance can be considered a felony if you have also been convicted of a sex crime that has led to you being listed in the state’s sex offender registry.
The same applies if you have been convicted of a serious felony (murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, sexually violent crimes). In felony possession of a controlled substance, you can be sentenced anywhere from 16 months to three years in prison.
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What is a Drug Diversion Program?
Similar to probation, diversion programs are often given to first offenders. This penalty permits the offender to enroll in a behavior modification program or attend counseling. The drug offender must also comply with specific conditions for six months or more.
Drug possession charges will be dropped as soon as the offender completes the program. However, failure to comply will result in the prosecutor filing drug possession charges. If you are legitimately guilty of possession, this is a way to get help while avoiding jail time.
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What Are California Drug Schedules?
Drug schedules in each state, including California, are broadly informed by the federal government. Their classification defines six “schedules” of controlled substances based on their medical usefulness and addictive potential.
The closer to “1” on the schedule list, the worse the penalties will be. Some drugs, like meth, also have additional laws and punishments unrelated to the schedule system. Drug schedules are guidelines courts use to determine punishments for drug-related crimes.
What if I Have a Prescription for a Controlled Substance?
You are allowed to carry, possess, or use a controlled substance in certain situations, like for research purposes or under the supervision of your doctor. However, possession and use of said materials are deemed illegal when the substance has no legitimate use (as with heroin) or when you have no legal reason to have it.
You could be charged with illegally possessing a controlled substance in these cases. The punishment and consequences of these charges could significantly impact your future, as we discussed above. However, the consequences of this charge can last far beyond the legal punishment.
Can You Be Indicted at the Federal Level for a Drug Offense?
Under some circumstances, you could face federal charges for a drug crime, but it would be unlikely for minor drug possession. However, you may be accused of violating federal drug law if you were to transport any controlled substance between states, across the U.S. border, or through an airport. This could lead to severe penalties, including fines and prison time.
Local police officers are, most often, the enforcers of drug-related crimes. This would be considered a California health and safety code violation if a person is apprehended with a small amount of cocaine or heroin. Therefore, the defendant would likely have their case heard in one of California’s more than 200 drug courts.
That said, some drug-related offenses can prompt federal charges or be elevated to the federal level from state court due to various circumstances. The following are factors that may play a role in determining if an alleged drug violation will be a state or federal crime:
The Crime’s Severity
The Controlled Substances Act places many illicit and prescription drugs and their analogs into five categories according to their abuse or dependence potential and whether or not they have a legitimate medical use. Schedule I drugs, which are considered to have a high potential for abuse and no valid medical purpose, include heroin, LSD, marijuana, and MDMA.
Even if the possession of a substance is illegal under both California and federal law, federal prosecutors are unlikely to be bothered with minor drug offenses such as those related to possessing a relatively small amount of illicit drugs. Moreover, in most instances, federal drug offenses include drug manufacturing, trafficking, smuggling, or importation.
Federal charges may also apply in certain cases involving a large quantity of money or drugs, a large group of individuals such as a drug ring or cartel, or other federal offenses such as fraud or money laundering.
Where the Crime Took Place and Who Does the Arresting
As noted, if local police arrest you for allegedly committing a drug crime within California state lines, you would most likely face state drug charges. However, several situations can warrant federal charges, such as the following:
- A federal agent arrested you
- You allegedly committed the crime on federal property
- You were caught allegedly attempting to buy, sell, obtain or deliver a controlled substance by crossing state lines or international borders.
Keep in mind that federal charges are not restricted to state laws. A perfect example is marijuana: if an individual is caught with it on federal property, such as public-domain land or a national park, they can be charged with a drug crime at the federal level, even though recreational use is legal in California.
There Was an Informant
In some instances, a drug crime can be prosecuted in federal court because a defendant informs on another person in return for leniency or a lesser charge in their federal case. So, if a federally charged informant points the finger at you for a drug-related crime, you could also encounter federal charges.
Federal drug charges often come with much more severe punishments than those prosecuted at the state level, including mandatory minimum sentences. Therefore, if you have been charged with possession of a controlled substance in California and are concerned the offense might lead to federal charges, you are urged to consult with a criminal defense attorney who regularly handles these types of cases.
What Are the Social Repercussions of a Drug Possession Conviction?
A drug possession conviction can have serious repercussions in your life. For example, a criminal record of this nature can prevent you from getting a bank or student loan. In some instances, it could also prevent a student from graduating.
You might also have difficulty finding a job since companies do background checks. You definitely will not be able to get a security clearance for federal employment. A conviction could also cause your state licenses to be revoked. Your green card or visa can also be revoked due to drug possession, while a felony conviction could have you deported.
In American culture, people who possess drugs illegally are seen as abusers or dealers. While the culture is changing for some drugs, like cannabis, other illegal drugs or misuse of prescription drugs is seen poorly by the public.
How Do I Fight a Drug Possession Charge?
Being charged with possession of a controlled substance is undoubtedly nerve-wracking. However, there are ways to fight this allegation. With the right criminal defense lawyer and a proper strategy, you might even be able to have the charges dismissed altogether.
Here are some of the usual strategies employed by a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles:
- You can show that you have a valid prescription for the drug. But conversely, your lawyer can also show that the prosecutors cannot adequately prove that you do not have a doctor’s prescription.
- Prove that the drug or substance is not considered a controlled substance or it is not illegal. For instance, you might have a prescription for medical marijuana.
- Show that you were unaware there was a controlled substance on or near you. For example, your friend left his bag in your car or room, and the controlled substance was in one of the pockets. Since you were unaware that it was there, you cannot be charged with having possession of it.
- Prove that the controlled substance is not yours and belongs to another person.
- The search and seizure was illegal, or the police officers fabricated or exaggerated the evidence.
Learn More About Drug Possession Punishments by Contacting Our Office Today
A drug possession charge might be a misdemeanor in California, but it should never be treated lightly. It will still have severe consequences in your life. While there are ways to fight back or avoid harsh punishments, remember that every case is different.
Therefore, it is imperative that you secure the services of a drug possession lawyer from Simmrin Law Group who can clearly explain what to expect and what you need to do.