Obtaining narcotic drugs or medicine by forging or altering a prescription is a serious California per Business and Professions Code 4324 and Health and Safety Code 11368. According to these laws, only licensed medical practitioners can issue prescriptions. You are charged with violating any of these statutes if filed a fake or forged prescription or had one that was authored by a non-existent person or stolen. Regardless of how you obtained the medication, it is against the law to use a forged or altered prescription.
If you are accused of violating either BPC 4324 or HSC 11368 or both, the penalties upon a conviction are severe. The punishments of obtaining narcotics with a fake prescription are even more severe, according to HSC 11368. These allegations must be fiercely defended to receive a favorable outcome. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we passionately defend our clients faced with criminal allegations for a favorable outcome.
Overview of the Business and Professions Code 4324 BPC
In California, BPC 4324 is one of the statutes prohibiting forging or modifying prescriptions to obtain drugs. According to this law, purchasing medicine and veterinary drugs using a fake order is against the law. If you face charges for violating this law, you can challenge the allegations with an experienced attorney and prevail. Before a conviction is arrived at, the prosecution must present what is truthful and incriminating.
Additionally, the prosecution must determine the various elements of the offense, as outlined by the law. These include:
- You had or were found in possession of a prescription
- It was forged, altered, or unlawfully obtained and
- You planned to receive medicine, or you received it illegally using the forged prescription
If the prosecutor could show these elements, the court could convict you. However, an experienced attorney knows how to navigate the law and the right questions to ask, creating doubt in the prosecutor's case. Your attorney will also have a chance to present convincing arguments to your defense that could result in you earning less harsh penalties or a dismissal of your case.
A few terms, words, and phrases are used in defining what it entails under this statute. Here, we discuss some of them for a clearer understanding of the law. These include:
Describing Prescription Drugs or Medications according to BPC 4324
Although you can purchase some drugs over the counter, many of them require a prescription. For instance, there are necessary pain killers that you can walk into a pharmacy and buy, and there are those that a doctor must recommend or prescribe.
Equally, if a pharmacist sells you those drugs requiring a prescription without one, they also face charges. This means the law prohibits the illegal selling of medications requiring a prescription and the forging of a prescription to obtain these drugs.
If law enforcement officers suspect that a pharmacist issues prescription drugs without a prescription or accepts forged prescriptions, a sting operation could be planned to arrest them for the offense. Equally, if you are suspected of distributing or selling prescription drugs illegally obtained using fake prescriptions, you are charged with violating BPC 4324, together with other drug-related crimes.
Besides drugs for human consumption, specific veterinary drugs must be obtained using an order. If you forge or alter a prescription to have these particular drugs, you will violate BPC 4324. This will result in your prosecution for breaking the law, and the penalties upon a conviction are stringent.
Understanding a Prescription
When you visit a doctor, a diagnosis of what is ailing you is made and the medicines to treat or help determine the situation. Once this is done, the medications are written down on a pad known as the prescription pad. However, the prescription doesn't have to be manual. The list of the drugs your doctor recommends is the prescription. It could be issued electronically via email.
Prescriptions have standard content that includes your name if you are the patient or the patient's name. Additionally, the types of drugs and quantity needed, and how they should be consumed is also included. Lastly, information about the doctor who issued the prescription must be included. These details include how they can be contacted, their title, signature, and where they are found.
What is "utter" According to the Law?
The law also discusses the uttering of a prescription. This is done when:
- You receive drugs or try to have them while presenting a forged or altered prescription
- And you claim it to be authentic by words or conduct
For instance, following a dental surgery procedure, your dentist prescribes antibiotics to fight any potential bacterial infection and pain medication to manage the discomfort. But, without the consent or knowledge of your dentist, you add an extra drug like Oxycontin to the order.
When you take the prescription to buy your medication, the pharmacist notices the handwriting to be different, or the pens used are different, or the drugs for pain seem more than required. They proceed to question you regarding the drug's order, but you insist that you received it from your dentist or just shrug. Under the law, you insinuated the prescription was authentic through your words or actions. This is what the law describes as utter.
If you passed a prescription as genuine through your words or actions, yet it is fake, you are violating the law. The pharmacist can call the authorities and report the suspected alteration, which will result in you facing charges for the violation.
Overview of Health and Safety Code 11368 HS
As earlier stated, two California laws prohibit the forging or altering of a drug prescription. If you forge a prescription or alter it, you violate HSC 11368. Additionally, if you falsify a prescription to obtain drugs or narcotics from a hospital or pharmacy that enhances drug addiction is unlawful. Some medications that cause addictions according to the statute include:
- Acetyl fentanyl
Under this statute, similar phrases or words describe it like those found under BPC 4324. Under HSC 11368, you will be prosecuted for a criminal offense if you:
- Modify, utter, forge or present a prescription claiming it to be authentic to receive drugs
- Insinuate or give a prescription for narcotic medications which carries a forged or fictitious signature or
- Have or own or obtain the narcotics through a forged, falsified, or modified prescription
Possession of drugs or medicines is in two levels according to the statute. You can constructively or have drugs, all of which will result in charges for violating the law. Additionally, the law understands a single person or more can have both constructive and actual possession of the drugs. This is what is known as joint ownership or control.
In this case, actual possession means you are presently holding or touching the drugs or have immediate access to them. According to the statute, the drugs may not be in your hands, but they can be in the bag you are carrying or in your pocket.
On the other hand, constructive possession means you have control and rights over the drugs even when they are not in your immediate access. This means you could have the drugs or medications in your house, office, storage, or car. Additionally, your agent, worker, or friend could also be storing them on your behalf, meaning you decide what to do with them and not the other person.
For instance, following the earlier example, you can alter your dentist's prescription and send your friend to fill it for you. If the pharmacist suspects the order to be fictitious, they can alert the authorities. In this case, your friend may be found with it or drugs, but in the real sense, you own them, and so you are charged with violating the law instead of her.
Possession based on the law can be shared too. For example, if the drugs your girlfriend went to collect from the pharmacy are shared between the two of you, you are both in joint custody even when you own them. If the drugs are found in a medicine cabinet accessible to both of you, the law assumes you have all constructive possession over them.
Proving the Crime of Forging or Altering a Prescription
Suppose you face accusations of violating BPC 4324 or HSC 11368. In that case, you must not panic but instead get in touch with a criminal attorney that understands the violations, their implications, and how to defend you from them. A charge or accusation does not mean that you receive a conviction immediately. The prosecutor must prove their claim by determining the multiple elements of the violation. The critical factors in proving the crime include:
You Changed, Modified, Received, or tried to Receive Drugs through a Fictitious Prescription
When faced with allegations of violating any of the above statutes, the prosecutor must prove the below facts before you become convicted. These are:
- You changed or modified the prescription in question
- You gave someone else a fictitious prescription
- You tried to use or used a fake order to obtain medications or drug
- And this fictitious order was to facilitate the purchasing of medicines or narcotics
- You were not responsible for the forgery, but you were aware the order was faked and used it anyway to obtain drugs
You had with You Medicine or Narcotics Obtained by use of a Fictitious Order
If the charges against you are for having in your person or your control drugs or medications bought with a forged prescription, specific facts must be determined. These include:
- You obtained or had with you or in your control the alleged medicines or drugs
- You knew you had them
- You understood the substances in your possession were prescription medicines or narcotics
- These medicines or drugs were in usable amounts
- The substances you have were fraudulently obtained by use of a forged or modified order
- You knew the medications or drugs were obtained fraudulently
According to the statute, the usable volume of drugs means you had an adequate amount for consuming as a narcotic even when it cannot impair one. A critical point to note is that a guilty verdict is not based on your knowledge of the drug, but provided you understand it to be a controlled or prescription substance.
For example, you ask your friend John to bring you something that would make you high. Your friend comes later with pills and shares it with you. He tells you they are prescription drugs that he illegally obtained. You pay and consume the pills knowing they were obtained fraudulently. Here, charges of violating HSC 11368 can be leveled against you.
Knowledge, Based on BPC 4324 and HSC 11368
One critical element to prove in the violation of these statutes is that of knowledge. In determining the element of knowledge, the prosecution must show:
- You knew about the drugs by showing the admissions or statements by the officers that handled the case
- Presenting statements from other witnesses
- By providing to the court evidence of your previous crimes if they are drug-related or
- Through the provision of circumstantial evidence
Following the earlier example, you purchased the drugs from your friend, knowing they were prescription meds obtained illegally. After you are arrested, you admit they are yours, but you thought they were brought from Canada. However, suppose you have a prior conviction for a related crime. In that case, the prosecution will present your record showing you were aware of the drugs you had were prescription ones and unlawfully obtained.
Penalties for Forging or Altering a Prescription
When you become accused of violating HSC 11368 and BPC 4324, it is a wobbler violation. The decision to charge you on misdemeanor or felony charges lies with the prosecutor. The state evaluates your criminal history and the facts of the violation. If you hold no criminal record on related offenses in your past, and as you committed the crime, there were no aggravating factors or violence, you become charged with a misdemeanor.
But, if previously you had a conviction on a drug-related offense or violence, among other enhancing factors were present, the crime becomes a felony. If convicted on misdemeanor violations, your punishment will include:
- Serving in the county jail for six to 12 months
- A fine not above $ 1,000
- A probation sentence with conditions
A felony conviction carries steeper penalties that include:
- State imprisonment lasting between 16 and 36 months
- A fine not above $10,000
- Probation with terms and conditions
Unlike misdemeanor probation, formal probation often requires you to serve part of your prison sentence. Regardless, the probation sentence comes with various conditions, which, if not followed, can result in its revocation and a stay of a prison sentence. The period of most probations is between three and five years. Some conditions that must be fulfilled if sentenced to probation are:
- Enrolling for therapy and drug treatment
- Pay the fines imposed following the hearing
- Serve the community as directed by the court and fulfilling the hours
- Ensure to meet with the probation officer as ordered
- It would be best if you stayed away from committing any crimes, especially drug-related
If you fail in fulfilling any of the conditions, you risk revocation of your probation sentence and jail time in its place.
Legal Defenses to Forging or Altering a Prescription
The penalties for forging or altering a prescription are severe, whether a misdemeanor or felony ones. A charge on breaking any of these laws requires aggressive defense from a skilled attorney. Upon studying your case, your lawyer will develop strategies to cast doubts in the prosecutor's case. Some defenses that could help in your case include:
Your Prescription was Lawful
You can become charged with violating any of these statutes wrongly. For example, law enforcement officers may have received information that a particular doctor was issuing bogus prescriptions at a fee. Without knowing, you visit the doctor for treatment, and they give you a prescription for the drugs to buy. As you leave the clinic, you become arrested on suspicion of having a fictitious prescription.
Further, some of the drugs you had been prescribed for are pain meds that can cause addiction. However, if you genuinely visited the clinic and your prescription is genuine, your lawyer can argue your prescription was legally obtained. Further, an expert witness can be brought to confirm if the symptoms you had would have been treated with the drugs and if they were sufficient for it. If it is proven your prescription was authentic, the charges against you will be dismissed.
You Never Knew the Order was Modified or Changed
Knowledge is one of the primary elements of violating these statutes. You may have a prescription that was fictitious but never knew about it. Having the forged order is not sufficient to convict you of the offense. The prosecution must prove that you were aware the prescription was altered or modified, and with the knowledge, you tried to obtain medicine or drugs with it.
If you never knew the prescription was fake, on the other hand, you are innocent of violating the law. This is true even when you were aware of the nature of the medicine in the order. For instance, you face charges for modifying or changing a prescription because you are found passing one at a pharmacy. But, you were filling the prescription for your roommate that got injured at work. When your roommate gave you the prescription, they had already altered it, but you didn't know. If this is the case, your attorney can present this argument and have you found the offense innocent.
You Never Knew the Drugs were Unlawfully Obtained
When you are found with controlled drugs without a prescription, you can face charges for violating the law. However, if you can prove that you never knew a prescription was forged to obtain them, the charges might be dropped. For instance, you fell and hurt yourself but believe it is a superficial injury that does not require going to the hospital. Unfortunately, you start experiencing painful discomfort that requires pain drugs to manage it. Your friend offers you pain drugs at a fee that remained after a doctor issued the mother them following an accident earlier.
In this case, you agree to pay for the drugs believing they were obtained legally. But, your friend lied about how they received them and forged a prescription to have them for profit. In this case, you are innocent of forging or altering an order to obtain medicine.
The Doctor or Hospital made a Mistake
Human beings are bound to make mistakes. A doctor, as they wrote the prescription, can make a mistake and cancel it. Unfortunately, it may seem forged when you present it to the pharmacist, provoking them to inform the authorities. You may be arrested on suspicion of trying to purchase drugs with a fraudulent prescription in this case. However, if the doctor or hospital errored, this can be proven with your lawyer's help and have the charges dropped.
Forging a Prescription as an Immigrant
If you become convicted of any drug crime in the United States as an immigrant, the immigration department must be informed. Drug crimes are grounds for deportation or inadmissibility in the United States. If you are charged with any drug crime in California and are an immigrant, you must aggressively defend yourself against a conviction. If you earn a conviction for this offense, you can face deportation as a repercussion.
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Drug crimes are among the most severely punished offenses in California. When you are charged with violating BPC 4324 or HSC 11368, possible penalties and consequences are severe. Finding an experienced lawyer to represent you is helpful. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we provide our clients with the best representation possible. Call us at 310-564-2605 and to discuss your case further.