Having a controlled substance on your person could potentially put you in a lot of trouble with the authorities. Controlled substances are typically defined as drugs that the possession and use of which 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 substances, like cocaine, heroin, marijuana, or methamphetamine, without permission or justification.
The California Health and Safety Code 11350(a) HS states that it is illegal to have a controlled substance without a valid prescription. It also defines various kinds of controlled substances and has categorized 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 a wide variety of 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: A lot of 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 a drug treatment or rehabilitation program in lieu of jail time. Rehabilitation can also be one of the requirements of a probation sentence.
- Probation: This is often meted out in conjunction with other penalties like fines, imprisonment or rehabilitation. Probation requires the offender to check in with a probation officer regularly and follow set conditions, like 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 its 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 have to be met in order to qualify for it. Those who have previous convictions are not protected by Proposition 47 and can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a 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 also applies if you have been convicted of a serious felony (murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, sexually violent crimes). In cases of 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 go to counselling. The drug offender also has to comply with specific conditions for a duration of 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 still 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.
In general, the closer to 1 on the schedule lists, the worse the penalties. 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.
In these cases, you could be charged with illegal possession of a controlled substance. The punishment and consequences of these charges could have a major impact in your future, as we talked about above. However, the consequences of this charge can last far beyond the legal punishment.
What Are the Social Repercussions of a Drug Possession Conviction?
A drug possession conviction can have serious repercussions in your life. 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 won’t 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.
Currently 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 You 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. 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’s not illegal. For instance, you might have a prescription for medical marijuana.
- Show that you were not aware that 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 can’t be charged with having possession of it.
- Prove that the controlled substance is not yours and belongs to another person.
- The search and seizure that was conducted was illegal or the police officers involved have fabricated the evidence or exaggerated it.
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 to avoid harsh punishments, remember that every case is different. It’s imperative that you secure the services of a lawyer who can clearly explain what to expect and what you need to do.