Drug Crimes & What You Need To Know
In California, drug crimes involve the use, possession, distribution, manufacture or trafficking of an illegal controlled substance. No criminal area has seen a greater increase in prosecutions and new laws than drugs and narcotics. Drug trafficking busts mean lots of publicity for prosecutors and politicians and California prosecutes drug crime cases quite aggressively. Since drug crimes have some of the harshest sentencing guidelines in the criminal justice system, it is essential that you have a reliable criminal attorney at your side. If you have been charged with a drug crime, seek legal representation immediately. At Leah Legal we have the expertise and attitude you need to help beat your charges.
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Possession of Drugs
Under California law, there are two main types of drug possession crimes. The first category involves simple possession. If someone is found in possession of a drug that is listed in the California Health and Safety Code, they can be charged with possession of a controlled substance. These substances include cannabis, heroin, cocaine – including crack cocaine, methamphetamine, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, other amphetamines, LSD, PCP, psilocybin, MDMA and others.
The second type of drug possession is possession with intent to sell. If the police suspect that someone intended to sell the drugs in question, they can be charged with a much more serious crime. In addition, some substances that can be used as ingredients in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, PCP, and other illegal drugs are banned under state law, and individuals found in possession of them can be arrested.
It’s very difficult to predict what kind of penalties an individual might face for a drug possession conviction without knowing the nature and quantity of the drug involved as well as the alleged intent of the individual. Just possessing a controlled substance can be enough to put an individual behind bars for months or longer, while those convicted of possession with intent to sell can serve much longer sentences. Expensive fines, community service, and counseling can also be required for drug offenders.
Under Prop 47, a referendum passed by state voters in the November 2014 election, penalties were reduced for many nonviolent crimes including drug possession. Drug possession is now treated as a misdemeanor in California; however, there are special laws that apply to cannabis.
In California, the possession of cannabis is treated differently from other drug crimes. In spite of the fact that cannabis is not legal, possession of an ounce or less is treated as a minor infraction (much like a traffic ticket) and defendants can usually expect to pay only about $100 in fines. Also, under the terms of Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 420, California residents with state-issued medical marijuana cards can legally purchase cannabis from designated dispensaries. However, users who don’t have medical marijuana cards and are found with larger amounts of cannabis can be charged with misdemeanors if the quantities involved are significant. Law enforcement officials will often charge individuals who are found in possession of non-criminal amounts of cannabis (less than an ounce) with possession with intent to sell in order to secure harsher sentences. Although being in possession of cannabis is a far less serious crime than those involving narcotics such as heroin and cocaine, it is still very much illegal in California.
Distribution of Drugs
Criminal charges that involve the selling, transporting, transferring, or importing of controlled substances are much more serious matters than those involving simple possession or possession with intent to sell. In order for a prosecutor to secure a conviction for a drug distribution crime, they will need to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual planned to use the drugs in question for purposes other than personal consumption. The presence of physical evidence such as scales, firearms, and packaging materials can all be used to help secure such a conviction.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, there may be a number of ways to fight drug distribution charges. Some of these include proving that the drugs were for personal use only, or that entrapment was involved. An experienced drug crimes lawyer will help you tailor your defense to the specifics of your arrest. Sometimes, as with possession, violations of your 4th Amendment rights may have been involved, and defenses involving illegal search and seizure can be presented.
Though penalties are difficult to predict, sentences for drug distribution convictions are generally more severe than those resulting from possession-related convictions. California also has enhanced penalties for individuals who sell drugs to minors or sell drugs near schools or other locations where minors regularly congregate. Furthermore, offenders who have been previously convicted on drug distribution charges or other drug crimes can expect harsher sentences for second or subsequent convictions. Prison sentences of ten or twenty years are not uncommon in such situations.
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
Another California drug crime you might be charged with, sometimes in connection with other charges like drug distribution or possession for sale, is that of possessing "drug paraphernalia."
"Paraphernalia" is a very broad term under California law. It can be anything from a pipe to a needle to lab equipment or cocaine spoons.
You can get as much as six months in a county jail upon conviction of possession of drug paraphernalia, though normally this doesn't happen since most charged with this crime can get into a drug diversion program (with help from a skilled defense lawyer.)
Plus, it is very common for the paraphernalia used as evidence to have been seized by police in an illegal search and seizure operation. In that case, we may be able to get the evidence suppressed and your case dismissed.
Possession of Meth
California has a separate Health and Safety Code section (11377) that singles out possession of methamphetamine drugs for special treatment.
However, Prop 47 also made this charge a misdemeanor in most cases; unless it is a possession of meth for sale charge, which is a felony punishable by years in state prison.
At Leah Legal, we have deep experience in every niche area of drug crimes defense, including charges of methamphetamine possession.
Manufacture of a Controlled Substance
HSC 11379.6 makes it a felony crime to manufacture a controlled substance. This crime can encompass any stage of the manufacturing process and can apply all manner of illegal drugs (including everything from meth to marijuana.)
You can get up to seven years in prison for an unaggravated drug manufacturing charge. If large quantities were manufactured or if children were present near the drug lab (as in being near a school or playground), the punishment gets even harsher.
However, it's not enough for police to merely find equipment and drugs on your premises to prove this charge. Merely gathering supplies is not enough to violate the statute: manufacturing must have actually begun. But possessing chemicals and having an intent to use them to manufacture drugs can still be charged under HSC 11383.5 as "possession of materials for manufacture of drugs."
Also note that cultivating or manufacturing peyote, a drug used in many Native American religious rituals is a related but distinct crime.
Being Under the Influence of an Illegal Drug
Those found under the influence of a controlled substance (drug use) can also be convicted in California under HSC 11550 and can get as long as a year in jail. A drug diversion program can usually be substituted for actual jail time, however.
If one was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs (even legal ones) so that it inhibited his or her driving abilities, then it would be treated just like a DUI. It's sometimes called a "DUID" (driving under the influence of drugs), but it carries the same penalties as DUI alcohol.
At Leah Legal, we know how to challenge the alleged "signs" of being under the influence of drugs. Many of those used by prosecutors are inconclusive. And it is sometimes possible to challenge the results of drug tests as well, so don't assume a drug test automatically closes the case.
Prescription Drug Charges
Not only illegal narcotics but prescription drugs too are controlled substances under California law. To possess them without a valid prescription counts as drug possession just like with cocaine or heroine.
These kinds of charges might involve allegations of using fraud to obtain the drugs, of stealing them, or using drugs prescribed to someone else, of possessing a greater quantity than prescribed, or of using the drug in doses not in accord with doctor's orders.
And doctors and pharmacists can be charged with illegally prescribing drugs to those they know don't need them and will use them recreationally, in order to get kickbacks.
But many are also falsely accused of misusing prescription drugs. At Leah Legal, we know how to win these types of cases, and we won't let the prosecution go unchallenged.
Drug Diversion Programs in California
We at Leah Legal always fight first and foremost for a dismissal or an acquittal, but we also know how and when to apply our well seasoned negotiation skills to win a favorable plea.
Sometimes, this involves simply a reduced charge and sentence. But often in drug crime defense cases, it will include approval in a drug diversion program under PC 1000, Prop 36, or California Drug Court.
If your drug crime is a misdemeanor, is a non-violent offense, and you have not been recently convicted of a drug crime already, there is a good chance you will qualify for a diversion program.
Diversion programs help you avoid spending actual time in jail. Under PC 1000 Deferred Entry of Judgment, you would plead "guilty" to, say, simple possession and agree to complete a drug treatment program. Later, if you follow the program and complete it, your charges will be dismissed. This allows you to avoid having a criminal record.
Or, under Prop 36, you can be put on probation instead of going to jail. You also would have to complete a drug treatment process.
Either way, you have to comply with the "rules" of the program to avoid having the original jail sentence come back and be enforced.
Other benefits to California drug diversion programs include:
- No prior conviction is created. This not only means you fare better in applying for a good job but it also means your dismissed charge can't be brought up as a prior if another drug crime charge comes up later.
- You can say you were never convicted of a drug crime and have it be legally true. This helps on job applications, lease and college enrollment applications, and more. However, if you apply for a law enforcement position or run for public office, you would still have to reveal that the drug charge had occurred.
- You don't have to quit work or school. Even during the diversion program period, you can likely still attend school and continue your current job. Otherwise, going to jail could cause you to lose all income and all of your property and be separated from friends and family for months or years on end.
- You might be able to keep your professional license. In many cases, one convicted of a drug crime (even the least serious of drug crimes, like simple possession) will lose his or her state-issued professional license. That means your career will effectively end. A diversion program can often save you license, though some form of less severe professional discipline might still apply.
- You get help in recovering from a drug abuse habit. If you really do have a drug abuse problem, it's easy for it to continue until it becomes a lifelong habit. And drug abuse tends to get worse over time and ruin you financially and destroy your relationships. A drug diversion program can help you overcome the addiction even while keeping you out of jail and avoiding a permanent criminal record.
Contact Us Today for Help in Winning Your Case
If you, a friend or a loved one has been arrested for any type of drug crime in Los Angeles, we want to hear about it. Call Leah Legal to schedule an appointment with a fearless drug crimes attorney who has been very successful in helping clients with their drug-related criminal charges. We look forward to speaking with you and getting to work on your criminal defense immediately.
To schedule a free initial consultation, call 818-484-1100 or fill out the form provided here.