California law specifically prohibits possession of any useable amount of specified controlled substances. This includes not only so-called "street drugs," like heroin or cocaine but the law also applies to prescription drugs when the individual does not possess a valid prescription.
A one-time mistake with a small amount of drugs should not be the reason someone has to live with a criminal record for the rest of their life. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney can advise you of your rights, identify the best legal strategies to fight drug charges in Los Angeles, and deal with the prosecutor so you don't have to plead guilty to something you did not do.
California's Possession of a Controlled Substance Law
Under California Health & Safety Code 11350, possession of certain controlled substances is against the law. This includes:
- Opiates and opium derivatives,
- Certain hallucinogenics,
- Certain depressants,
- Morphine, and
Simple drug possession is generally a misdemeanor in California, however, under some circumstances, possession can result in more serious charges. For example, if the prosecutor believes the individual intended to sell the drugs, the defendant may face felony charges for possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell.
Not all drugs or controlled substances are treated alike. Possession of other drugs can result in higher or lesser penalties, depending on the substance. Since marijuana was legalized for recreational use in California, possession of marijuana is no longer a crime, in most cases. However, underage possession can be a violation and selling marijuana is a still a crime in California.
Possession of methamphetamines is also covered by a different code in California, with penalties depending, in part, on the amount of the substance involved.
Elements of a Possession of a Controlled Substance Charge
The elements of California's criminal charge of possession of a controlled substance include the key elements of possession and a controlled substance.
The legal definition of "possession" allows potential defenses based on the different types of possession and the requisite proof required to prove possession. This includes actual possession, constructive possession, or joint possession.
- Actual possession of a controlled substance means direct and immediate physical control over the controlled substance.
- Constructive possession over a controlled substance means that the drugs were not found on your person but were discovered in a location over which you exercise control. For example, if someone is sitting on a couch and there are drugs in a side table drawer next to the couch, the individual may be considered to be in constructive possession of the drugs.
- Joint possession when you and at least one other person share either actual or constructive possession. This could be actual or constructive. Police often use joint possession to try and get one person to say the other person had the drugs. The police may use this as evidence that the other person was in possession of a controlled substance.
The next element for a charge of possession of a controlled substance is the knowledge that the controlled substance in possession is illegal. In other words, possession of a controlled substance without a valid prescription is treated as a criminal charge and follows the criminal process for a drug charge in L.A.Evidence of the following may be used to show possession of a "controlled substance:"
- Exercising control over the drugs,
- Knowing the drug is a controlled substance,
- Knowing of the drug's presence, and
- There was a sufficient quantity of the drug to be useable.
If there is not a sufficient quantity of a controlled substance, the police may charge the individual with another crime, such as possession of drug paraphernalia. For example, if the police find someone with a residue of methamphetamines and a glass pipe, there may not be enough of the drug for a possession charge, but the police could use the glass pipe to charge the individual with a paraphernalia charge.
Potential Penalties for Drug Possession in Los Angeles
In most cases, simple drug possession is a misdemeanor. A conviction for possession of a controlled substance can result in up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, possession of a controlled with a prior felony record can result in felony charges for possession. Additionally, possession while on parole or probation could result in revocation.
While simple possession is a misdemeanor, possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell is a felony. The amount of drugs involved often makes the difference between whether someone faces misdemeanor or felony charges. Even if the individual intended to use the drugs personally, if there is a large amount of the substance, the prosecutor may charge the individual with possession for sale.
The quantity of the controlled substance then becomes an important issue in drug possession cases. Other evidence that can be used to prove intent to sell include paraphernalia for sale such as baggies, scales, or other evidence used to indicate the intent to traffic a controlled substance. This may include text messages the implicate a possible drug transaction.
Juvenile Penalties for Drug Possession
When an individual under the age of 18 is found in possession of drugs, the case may be handled through the California Juvenile Court system. If your son or daughter was accused of drug possession, talk to a Los Angeles juvenile justice attorney about the best options to handle their case and give them the best chance for success.
Drug Diversion in California
For a first-time offender, simple drug possession charges are generally eligible for drug diversion under California Penal Code 1000. A drug diversion program allows the individual to complete certain requirements, including drug treatment and education, in exchange for dropping the criminal charges.
Eligibility generally requires the crime did not involve violence or other aggravating factors. As long as the individual can follow the requirements of the program for the required time, (generally 12 to 18 months) and stay out of trouble, the court may dismiss the charges and the individual can have a clean criminal record. This can help someone with a first-time drug offense avoid the collateral consequences that come with having a criminal record.
Drug Possession Legal Defense Strategies
Any and all evidence must be carefully reviewed by an experienced California criminal defense attorney in order to determine potential legal defenses. Potential defenses are contingent upon the specific circumstances of each case.
There are many legal defense strategies to challenge a possession of a controlled substance. A common defensive strategy is to appropriately challenge the probable cause of law enforcement to make contact with the accused. The next potential defense argument would be to that the search and seizure were illegal and violated the individual's constitutional rights.
If the individual's rights against unlawful search or seizure were violated, the criminal defense attorney can file a motion to suppress the illegally-obtained evidence. The police and prosecutor should not be able to benefit from evidence taken in violation of someone's rights. If the motion to suppress is successful, the prosecutor may have to drop the case because there is no evidence of any crime.
Other potential defense strategies would be contingent of case facts and evidence but could include the defense of not having possession. If possession is established, a potential defense could be that the individual did not know the substance was an illegal controlled substance.
In many cases, the police may arrest someone for possession of a prescription drug when the individual does not have a prescription in their name. However, the individual may be able to show that he or she was legally prescribed the drug. Alternatively, the individual could have picked up the medication for a family member or friend who was ill.
Ultimately, it is important to understand that the evidence of each case must be carefully inspected by an experienced criminal defense attorney specializing in drug crimes so that any and all potential defenses are explored and the appropriate defense strategy is vigorously pursued.
Los Angeles Drug Possession Defense Attorney
Drug possession charges in Los Angeles may be an individual's first serious run-in with the law. An arrest can be stressful for the individual and his or her family. However, an arrest for drug possession does not have to ruin your life. Talk to an experienced LA drug defense lawyer with a successful record of defending people facing drug charges.
Your California drug defense attorney can talk to you about your case, identify defense strategies, and investigate your case to give you the best chance for avoiding a criminal conviction. William S. Kroger understands how stressful and challenging it can be for someone facing drug charges. The most important step is the first one.
Call William S. Kroger Attorney at Law at (323) 655-5700 or contact us online for a free and confidential consultation.