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Illegal Possession of Prescription Drugs

In California, it's not only illegal to possess, sell, transport, or use drugs that are always illegal, but it is also a crime to do the same with prescription drugs - without a valid prescription. California has a variety laws that specifically target abuse of prescription drugs, both on the user and health care professional side of the equation.

Anyone facing prescription drug charges in Los Angeles or Southern California could be looking at heavy fines, jail time, denial of financial aid for college, limitations on where you can work or which apartments you can get approved to lease, or loss of your professional license(s) IF convicted. These are serious potential consequences, and it behooves you to waste no time in securing a top-tier criminal defense attorney who will know how to win your case.

At Leah Legal, we have been successfully defending clients in Los Angeles, CA, and beyond against all manner of prescription drug charges for many years. We will know how to build you a solid defense and win the best possible outcome to your case. Contact Leah Legal anytime 24/7 by calling 818-484-1100 for a free legal consultation and immediate attention from a well seasoned prescription drug crimes defense lawyer!

Illegal Possession of Prescription Drugs (HSC 11350)

Illegal possession of prescription drugs has reached near epidemic levels in California and throughout the US. It's no wonder that prosecutors are focused on trying to stem the tide of this problem - but, in many cases, innocent people get falsely accused of illegally possessing prescription drugs. At Leah Legal, we understand the details of California law on these matters. We will know how to defend you pretrial and in court, we our goal will always be a dismissal of the charge.

Under California Health & Safety Code Section 11350, it is against the law to possess a "controlled substance" in a usable amount. And that applies to legal drugs like Vicodin, codeine, fentanyl, or oxycodone, just as surely as to illicit drugs like cocaine, LCD, or heroin - IF you possess those drugs without a valid prescription. Possessing prescription drugs with an outdated prescription, a falsified prescription, or in greater amounts than your prescription allows is also illegal under California law.

Possible Penalties

Due to changes made by Prop 47, illegal possession of prescription drugs is often a misdemeanor instead of a felony in California. But factors like the quantity of drugs possessed, the type of drug possessed, and the defendant's past criminal record can affect whether HS 11350 Possession of a Controlled Substance is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

HS 11350 is a misdemeanor for a first time, unaggravated offense, punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. But if you have a prior for a serious felony or sex crime, HS 11350 becomes a felony and can be punished by from 16 months to 3 years in state prison.

Elements of the Crime

To prove someone guilty of possession of a controlled substance, the prosecutor must demonstrate the following elements of the crime to be true beyond all reasonable doubt:

  • You possessed a drug illegally.
  • You were aware the drug was in your possession.
  • You possessed the drug in a "usable" quantity.

Note that "possession" can mean on your person (actual possession), under your control though not on your person (constructive possession, or joint possession. Also note that you must have had knowledge of the drug's presence and of it's being in your possession in any of the three senses mentioned above. And, you must have been aware of the drug's nature as a controlled substance (in this case, of the fact you lacked a valid prescription for a prescription drug.)

You can't be convicted for mere traces of a trace being in your possession. There must have been at least enough of the drug present so that it could be used and have its normal effects. That doesn't mean a large quantity must be found, however, just at least a barely usable amount.

Defense Strategies

At Leah Legal, we know how to build you a solid defense based on the specifics of your case. But in many cases, one or more of these common basic defenses will be included in the overall strategy:

  1. Valid prescription. You actually did possess a valid, current prescription from a state-licensed doctor. The prescription was yours, not someone else's, and you did not possess or use more of the drug than prescribed.
  2. Lack of knowledge. You were unaware of the nature of the drug or of its presence. Maybe a friend or family member left it in your car or hid it in your apartment without your knowledge or consent.
  3. Police misconduct. If you were subjected to an illegal search/seizure or if your rights were other violated during the arrest, we can likely get evidence suppressed and win you a dismissal.

We always fight first and foremost to totally defeat all charges brought against you - and we have won in that manner for many past clients. However, in cases where a complete victory (dismissal or acquittal) is unrealistic, we can employ our well honed negotiation skills to win you a favorable plea deal. We may be able to get you approved for a drug diversion program that will allow you to avoid actual jail time but require you undergo drug rehab for 12 to 18 months. If you have no past felonies or drug charges in the last 5 years and your current offense was non-violent, then you will likely qualify.

Finally, also note that if you were sentenced for drug possession as a felony before passage or Prop 47, and if under Prop 47 you would likely have only been sentenced to a misdemeanor, we can help you petition to get your charge reduced.

Possession for Sale of Prescription Drugs (HSC 11351)

Under Health & Safety Code Section 11351, it is a serious felony to illegally possess prescription drugs with intent to illegally sell them. It is also an offense to legally possess the drugs by prescription, but nonetheless intend to sell them illegally to someone else.

When you possess large amounts of drugs, have them carefully packaged in regular quantities, have drug scales and a lot of cash in small bills, and many people are coming/going from your residence or other location where you have the drugs stored - prosecutors are likely to suspect you had an intent to sell the drugs and charge HSC 11351 Possession for Sale. Possession for sale of a prescription drug is a felony, punishable by from 2 to 4 years in state prison and a fine of up to $20,000. 

A skilled lawyer can often get the sentence reduced to only 1 year in jail and probation following that. But no one convicted of possession for sale can qualify for a drug diversion program.

Defenses against possession for sale include the following:

  • Lack of drug possession.
  • You had a valid prescription.
  • Lack of intent to sell - possession for personal use alone.
  • Police misconduct.

Illegal Sale/Transport of Prescription Drugs (HSC 11352)

Under California Health & Safety Code Section 11352, it is a felony to illegally sell or transport (traffic in) prescription drugs. The law also applies to administering, furnishing, giving away free, or importing such drugs.

If convicted of HSC 11352, you could face 3 to 5 years in state prison, a year of probation, and a $20,000 fine. If you crossed two or more county lines in transporting the drugs for sale, you could get up to 9 years in prison. Plus, having a felony on your permanent police record could affect your future employment and other opportunities.

Defending against drug sale or transport charges is much the same as defending against possession for sale, up to a point. But additional defenses include: lack of transport for sale or transport a significant distance and lack of actual sale.

Illegal Use of Prescription Drugs (HSC 11550)

It is a misdemeanor offense in California to illegally use prescription drugs, under Health & Safety Code Section 11550. If you are under the influence of any controlled substance illegally, including prescription drugs, you have violated HSC 11550. However, to gain a conviction, the prosecution must prove the use was immediately before the arrest to be "current." But realize that it is possible for "current" use to mean use as much as five days ago. And "current use" also implies that you are not undergoing withdrawal symptoms for "past use" of the drug.

Note that being under the influence of a prescription drug so as to impair your driving ability is a separate offense handled under Vehicle Code Section 23152a. That would be a DUID charge and could get you a license suspension of 6 months to 3 years.

For a driving under the influence charge, the prosecution has to prove your driving was affected by the drug so that you drove with less than "ordinary care and caution." But with an HSC 11550 charge, any detectable amount of the drug in your system is enough to convict. HSC 11550 Illegal Use of a Controlled Substance is a misdemeanor charge in California, punishable by up to 12 months in county jail, up to 5 years of probation, mandatory drug counseling, and maybe community service.

And if convicted of this charge for a third time within a 7-year period after also refusing drug treatment programs the court appointed for you, you must spend at least 180 days in county jail - rather than getting all jail time exchanged for probation or community service.

Common defenses against the charge of illegally being under the influence of prescription drugs include: you were not under the influence of a controlled substance, you had a valid prescription, and you were a victim of involuntary intoxication.

California Prescription Drug Fraud Charges

Under Health & Safety Code Section 11173, the variety of prescription drug fraud called "doctor shopping" is prohibited and penalized. If you get prescription drugs prescribed to you based on fraud OR even just try to do so, you are guilty of violating HSC 11173. If you make false statements on a prescription or pretend to be someone legally allowed to prescribe drugs when in fact you are not, that also violates this statute. A final way to violate HSC 11173 is to falsify drug labels or packaging to misrepresent what type of drugs are in a container.

Any doctor who writes illegal prescriptions also violates HSC 11153, another California prescription drug fraud statute. HSC 11173 Prescription Drug Fraud can be a misdemeanor or a felony and can be committed by either doctors or patients. The same is true of HSC 11153.

Misdemeanor level prescription drug fraud in California is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail, while felony prescription drug fraud is punishable by anywhere from 16 months to 3 years in state prison.

Any medical professional who commits prescription drug fraud of any kind is very likely going to see his or her state-issued professional license revoked. Prescription drug fraud is a more complex charge than some of the other prescription drug charges because it involves both misuse of a controlled substance AND the crime of fraud.

In countering allegations of prescription drug fraud, Leah Legal uses many different effective defense strategies, including: lack of any fraud or deceit, lack of intent to write a false prescription (it was an accident), lack of knowingly misrepresenting your true medical condition to a doctor, and police misconduct such as entrapment, illegal search and seizure, planting of evidence, or failing to read the Miranda Rights.

Contact Leah Legal Today for Immediate Assistance!

At Leah Legal, we have deep experience in defending against allegations of California prescription drug offenses. We know what it takes to win and we've done so numerous times before for clients all over Los Angeles and Southern California. Do not hesitate to contact us today by calling 818-484-1100 for a free, no obligation consultation and immediate attention to your case!