Drug crimes are quite common in California. In the state today, other than prescribed and recreational/medicinal marijuana, all other drugs are considered illegal. What this means is that even if a person has followed every single law in the usage, production, and sale of drugs, they can still be arrested and charged with a drug crime.
At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we have highly proficient criminal defense attorneys who have excellent skills and experience in dealing with all cases that revolve around drug crimes. We dedicate our services to helping people arrested for drug crimes in Los Angeles, California. We believe that, due to the nature of drug crimes, many people face severe charges for drug crimes they have not even committed. If you or your loved one is facing charges for drug crimes, we can take you through the entire legal process and ensure that your rights are protected.
Legal Definition of Drug Crimes
A drug crime is a general term that is used to refer to different types of crimes that revolve around the use and possession of controlled substances. Every state in the United States has laws in place against illegal possession, use, production, and distribution of dangerous drugs. The rules are designed to help reduce the use of these illicit drugs and also reduce crimes related to drug use and abuse.
Drug crimes are, therefore, offenses that violate the set laws and regulations that surround controlled substances that are legally categorized. Controlled substances, in this case, are those chemicals and drugs which are believed to have hazardous effects on the welfare and health of human beings when they are misused. The government of the United States regulates and also bans the possession, production, and distribution of these controlled substances through its Controlled Substances Act.
The most popular type of controlled substances that are associated with most drug offenses in the country today is heroin, ecstasy, marijuana, LSD, methamphetamine, cocaine and common painkillers like Morphine, Vicodin, Codeine and Percocet. Note that this is not an exclusive list as the list is updated every year based on the ongoing studies regarding medical use as well as the potential for dependency on various substances.
California Drug Policy
The state of California has a drug policy, which provides different kinds and classes of drugs in the state. Through this policy, for instance, cannabis was decriminalized and legalized through some changes in the legislation. Its cultivation, production, and distribution, however, remain a criminal offense. Possession, use, production, distribution, and sale of other hard drugs remains a criminal offense in the state.
The state of California has placed controlled substances into 5 different classes. These classes are referred to as schedules. The basis for this classification is on the following:
- The recognized medical use of the drug
- Its abuse and dependency likelihood
Of these two factors, the drug's abuse and dependency possibility is the one that is considered the most when deciding the schedule where a particular substance will fall. A drug that has a higher likelihood of misuse and addiction will appear on a lower number of programs. It means that drugs in schedule 1 category are those that are easily abused and have a higher potential for dependency. Schedule 5 substances, on the other hand, are those with a lower potential for addiction and abuse. The program of the drug you are facing charges for also determined the penalties you are likely to face if found guilty.
Drug Schedules in California
As mentioned above, these are the drugs that have a high possibility for misuse and so not have any satisfactory medical use at the moment, except for marijuana. Some of the common ones include:
- Marijuana (Cannabis)
Drugs under this schedule also have great potential for misuse. Through abuse, a person can suffer psychological and/or physical dependence on the drugs. Common types of drugs under this category include:
Drugs under this schedule have a moderate possibility of dependency and abuse. When abused, these drugs could lead to low or moderate physical dependence but a higher psychological addiction. Common types of drugs under this category include:
- Anabolic steroids
- Substances with lower than 90 milligrams of codeine per unit in their dosage, for instance, Tylenol with Codeine
These are substances with a much lower potential for dependence and abuse. Popular examples of such drugs include:
- Lorazepam (Ativan®)
- Diazepam (Valium®)
- Temazepam (Restoril®)
- Alprazolam (Xanax®)
These are illegal substances believed to have the least potential for dependence and misuse amongst all other controlled substances. Most of the drugs under this schedule are medicinal and contain tiny quantities of some prohibited narcotics. Common types of drugs under this schedule include:
- Cough suppressants
Categorizing controlled drugs into various programs helps California courts in the administration of sentences for various drug crimes.
Types of Drug Crimes in California
There are many types of drug crimes in the state of California, based on the actual offense and the type of drug involved in your charges. A drug charge in the state can significantly change your life because a conviction will alter many aspects of your living. A drug charge will come once a police officer arrests you for violating laws concerning any of the controlled substances. The types of drug crimes in the state appear in three classes:
Common types of drug crimes one can face in the state include:
Possession of a Controlled Substance- Section 11350 of California Health & Safety Code
This section of the law makes it illegal when a person does the following:
- Possesses a certain controlled substance
- Does so without a legal prescription
- The defendant knew too well that he/she had the controlled substance
- The defendant was well aware of the nature of the substance
- The controlled drug was in a usable amount
Those are also the elements of this crime. The prosecutor is expected to prove them beyond reasonable doubt for the defendant to be found guilty of the offense.
The law is also called simple possession of controlled substances or possession of controlled substances for personal use. The types of drugs covered under the statute include:
- Un-prescribed oxycodone
According to this law, anyone that is found in possession of any controlled substance, without a written prescription from a dentist, physician, veterinarian, and podiatrist, will be punished by incarceration in the county jail.
Simple possession of controlled substances is a misdemeanor in California. Penalties an offender is likely to get are:
- Incarceration for not more than one year in county jail
- A fine of not more than $1000
There are instances when the conviction of possession of controlled drugs is a felony. These instances are, for example, when a defendant has a prior conviction of a serious felony offense like a sex crime. A felony offense for possession of a dangerous substance is punishable by a maximum of three years in county jail.
Possession of Narcotics for Sale- Section 11351 of California Health & Safety Code
It is one of the many laws in California that makes it illegal to distribute or sell illicit drugs. Possession and purchase of certain drugs with the intention of selling them is a severe offense that can be prosecuted under this statute. Some of the controlled substances whose sale is controlled by this section of law include:
- Opiates and its derivatives
- Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, abbreviated as GHB
- Specific hallucinogenic substances
The law also makes the possession and purchase of some prescribed drugs for sale. These include:
A person believed to be in possession of these drugs for sale has to face a court trial before conviction. There are specific facts, which are the elements of this crime, which a prosecutor must prove for the defendant to be found guilty. These are:
- That the defendant possessed the said drug
- That the defendant knew too well that he/she had the drug
- That the defendant was aware of the nature of the drug
- That the defendant had a large amount of that drug for use and sale
- That the defendant had either:
- Kept the drugs with the intention of selling them
- Purchased the drugs for resale
The offense of possessing narcotics for sale is a felony in the state of California. The penalties the offender is likely to get are:
- Jail term for two (2), three (3) or four (4) years
- Probation for a maximum of one year
- A fine of not more than $20,000
If the court learns that the offender intended to engage in multiple sales of the drugs in his/her possession, the penalties will be discharged in connection with each intention for sale. If you are a legal migrant, the conviction could lead to deportation.
These are factors that heighten the sentence for a particular offense. Under this offense, for instance, a conviction for possessing or purchasing a cocaine base for resale will be punished as above. However, if any of the substances found in your possession are cocaine base, cocaine, or heroin, you could face additional punishments as below:
- Further three years if the amount of drug weighed more than one kilogram
- Other five years if the amount weighed more than four kilograms
- Additional ten years of the amount was more than ten kilograms
- Additional fifteen years if the amount of drug was more than twenty kilograms
- Other twenty years if the number of drugs in your possession was more than forty kilograms
- Additional twenty-five years if the amount of drug was more than eighty kilograms
For every extra sentence above, the defendant will also be charged a fine of not more than $8,000,000.
Sale/Transportation of Controlled Substances- Section 11352 of California Health & Safety Code
For a person to be found guilty of this offense, they must have done the following:
- Sold an illegal drug in their possession
- Furnished the drug through any means including sale
- Administered the drug, which means causing another person to use it. This could have been done orally or through injection and by any other means
- Gave the drug away
- Transported the drug for sale
- Imported the drug into the state
- Offered to do any of the above with the drug
- Was well aware of the existence of the drug
- Was well aware of the nature of the drug in their possession
- The drug in his/her possession was in usable amounts
The controlled substances covered under this law include:
- Opiates and their derivatives
- Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid
- Cocaine, including its base
- Some prescription drugs, like hydrocodone and codeine
Transportation and sale of controlled substances is a felony offense in California. The penalties a defendant is likely to get after conviction include:
- Felony probation
- Three, four, or five years of incarceration in county jail. Jail term could go up to three, six or nine years respectively if it is established that you had transported the controlled substances for sale across two or more counties within California
- A fine of not more than $20,000
Note that the offender will not qualify for probation or suspended the sentence if:
- The conviction involves the sale of or an offer to sell 14.25g or more of a drug containing heroin.
- The defendant has one or more previous convictions for either California Health & Safety Codes 11352 or 11351
- the defendant has one or more previous convictions for the sale, possession for sale or offering to sell an illegal drug
Again, these are the factors that will heighten your sentence once you are found guilty of the sale/transportation of controlled substances. The factors include:
- If the offender has been trafficking drugs near a drug-treatment facility or homeless shelter. In this case, you will face an additional one year of jail time if the controlled substance in question is cocaine, heroin, or cocaine base.
- If the drugs meant for sale or transportation were of larger quantities. In this case, the additional sentences will be as provided above.
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia- Section 11364 of California Health & Safety Code
This section of the law makes it unlawful for a person to be found in possession of any device, instrument, contrivance, and other paraphernalia that are used for the use of illegal drugs. However, there is one exception to this law. California drug laws allow, until 2021, the possession of hypodermic syringes or needles if:
- They are for personal use
- The person acquired them form a pharmacist, physician or from a syringe or needle exchange program or any other authorized source that could provide sterile needles and syringes without prescriptions
The exception is geared towards the prevention of the transmission of blood-borne diseases such as HIV among those who are dependent on injectable drugs such as heroin.
To be sentenced to possessing drug paraphernalia, there are elements of this crime that the prosecutor needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. These are:
- That the defendant exercised control or had the right of control over the drug paraphernalia
- That the defendant was well aware of the presence of the equipment
- That the defendant was well aware of the nature of the material in his/her possession
Possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor offense, punishable with some or more of the following penalties:
- A jail term of not more than six months
- Maximum fines of $1000
In addition to this, an arrest and conviction of being in possession of drug paraphernalia could have devastating effects on the defendant's professional life, especially those who hold professional permits.
Possible Legal Defenses for California Drug Crimes
A conviction of any drug crime is enough to change many areas of a person's life. In addition to spending time behind bars and paying hefty penalties, a [person's social and professional life could be gravely affected. The only way out of any drug charge you could be facing is to fight the charges. With a competent criminal defense attorney by your side, the court may be compelled to drop your charges or give you a much lenient charge with less-harsh penalties.
Other than offering you guidance and support throughout the legal process, your attorney will prepare a strong defense and present it in court. Some of the defense strategies that could work for most drug crimes include:
You did not possess the drugs/paraphernalia
In most of these drug crimes, the prosecutor needs to prove that the defendant was in possession of the said drug. Proof of possession of the said drug paraphernalia is also required for a person to be found guilty of the offense. If the drug/paraphernalia were not found in your possession, the elements of the crime you are facing charges for would not be fully satisfied. If the evidence presented in court is not enough to convict an offender, the court dismisses the case. Your attorney could take advantage of this to have you released from custody.
You were not aware of the presence of the drug/drug paraphernalia
This is another strong defense that could be used to get you off the hook quickly. The restoring officer may have found you in possession of a dangerous drug, but if you were not aware of the nature of the drug or its presence, then you may not be guilty of the drug crime. Again, this goes back to the prosecutor's role in proving the elements of each offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Demonstrating knowledge is not an easy thing for a prosecutor. A person may be in possession of a substance or paraphernalia without knowing what it is or even its use. Drugs could be in your house without your knowledge that those drugs were there in the first place.
You had a valid prescription
As mentioned above, most of these illegal drugs are useful in one or more ways. However, the law requires a person to have a valid prescription before acquiring the drugs. If they are in your possession, you may get arrested, but if you had a prescription, you might not face a conviction. Note that the number of drugs in your possession will be considered too. If they are more than you could use, this will raise eyebrows, and the court may have a reason to believe that you had any intention of selling or distributing them
Unlawful search & seizure
The arrest of most drug crime suspects happens after search and seizure. There is no way to tell if a person is in possession of drugs if you do not search their pockets, bags, office, or home. An officer may suspect a person of the use of drugs, but the case will not hold in court if there is no proof that the person was in possession of the said drugs.
For this reason, a lot of officers end up conducting an illegal search and seizure without legal search warrants. Others obtain a limited search warrant and end up searching beyond the scope provided on the permit. If this is what happened to you, your attorney could use this defense to have all the evidence gathered against you thrown out of court.
The conduct of law enforcement officers during the search and arrest will also determine whether or not the evidence gathered will be admissible in court. If there is proof that the officer planted evidence to accuse you of possession of drugs or an officer gave a false account in court, the judge may dismiss your case and order for your release.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Drug charges are some of the most severe criminal charges you could face in the state of California. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we understand how hard it could be for you and your family if you are about to be sentenced for a drug offense. That is why we offer our defense services to people in Los Angeles, to help them avoid the hefty penalties that come with such a conviction. Call us at 310-564-2605, and let us influence the decision of the court in your favor.