Prescriptions are a critical part of treatment for ailments. Usually, only authorized medical personnel are allowed to prescribe medications, and most drugs sold by pharmacists require prescriptions. Under California law, prescription of drugs is done under stringent regulations as per several criminal codes.
These strict statutes are imposed to create awareness about prescription drug addiction and curb drug abuse. The measures outlined in these criminal codes include prohibiting possession of drugs without prescriptions, with the intent to use them, traffic them, or distribute them. Furthermore, if you obtain such drugs by providing false medications or forging prescriptions, you will be guilty of forging or altering a prescription. This offense is charged under criminal law.
Professional legal guidance is critical to ensure your defense is a success. Leah Legal is a law firm that specializes in the criminal defense practice area of California law. At Leah Legal, we endeavor to provide the most reliable legal guidance and representation for our clients. Our top-notch criminal defense attorneys are result-oriented, ensuring that our client's best interests are preserved. We offer our services to residents of Van Nuys in California.
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Definition of the Crime under California Law
Forging or altering a prescription is a white-collar crime. White-collar crimes are non-violent criminal offenses, usually in the business or professional realm, committed with monetary gain intentions. Such crimes can be perpetrated by individuals or by corporations. The statutes that handle white-collar crimes are available at both state and federal levels.
Furthermore, faking or changing a prescription's contents violates the California Business and Professions Code 4324. Some aspects of the crime can also be convicted as violating some of California Health and Safety Codes. The forging or altering of a prescription offense entails signing somebody else’s name (whether fictitious or real) or falsely making changes on a drug prescription or attempting to pass fake medications as genuine. The crime also includes any unnatural acts done or words of deceit uttered to a pharmacist or doctor to obtain prescription drugs. Examples of forgery or altering of a prescription are:
- Anyone who presents or attempts to submit fabricated or altered prescriptions;
- Anyone who utters false prescriptions;
- Taking prescriptions meant for another patient and using them to access drugs for your use;
- Forging a doctor's signature, a veterinarian's signature, or any other medical staff’s signatures authorized to give drug prescriptions.
Elements of the Crime
Further breaking down the forging and altering a prescription crime into its constituent elements will help you understand this crime. Gaining an understanding of the specifics considered when judging your case so that you can assist your attorney better prepare suitable defenses for your case. In a trial, the prosecutor's role is to analyze the crime elements and use them to prove your guilt in the offense's commission.
On the other hand, your lawyer will verify that your acts do not fall within these elements and nullify the prosecutor's evidence in your defense. The aspects of forging or altering a prescription are per the crime's description under the California Business and Professions Code 4324.
Altering a Prescription
The first element of this offense is the term prescription; a prescription is an order or a guide for the issuance of a drug or medication. Medications can be in written form or instructions given through a phone call and guidance on how to take medicine sent via electronic communications. Information that must be present on the prescription is the patient’s name, the drug being prescribed and the required amount, directions for use, date of issue, contact details of the prescriber, and signature. A prescription for controlled substances of category II-IV is valid for six months from the date written. If you fake or change the contents of such instructions to receive or purchase a drug or medication, you are guilty of forging or altering a prescription.
Altering a prescription is defined as changing the constituents of one already issued prohibited by law. It includes changing a prior date of an administered medication into a current date. For instance, when you finish a dose that your doctor had prescribed to you three months ago, then change the date to the present one, then go and present that prescription to a pharmacist.
Also, changing the dosage of a prescription is within this crime. A dosage outlines how many drugs one should take daily and how long they should follow that schedule. An example is, take two tablets three times a day. Therefore, increasing intervals at which to take your medicine or increasing the amount of medication you take at each interval will also increase the number of refills you require. Committing any of these actions is within the scope of this crime. You can also be said to commit the offense of altering a prescription if you change the medicine originally prescribed and replace it with another one.
Forging a Prescription
Forging a prescription is defined as writing a false prescription and using it or passing it as genuine. The act of forging can be by signing on a prescription the name of a doctor, nurse, medical assistant, or veterinary without their consent, to suggest that they prescribed the written medications.
An example of forgery of a prescription is; person X is addicted to painkillers; he sees his doctor claiming severe joint pains. However, he cannot convince the doctor to prescribe the drugs since the doctor, with time, notices a pattern of addiction in him. While the doctor isn't looking, person X manages to rip off a page from the doctor’s prescription notebook.
Person X then writes his prescription and signs it forging the doctor's signature. He then takes the prescription to a pharmacist and purchases the painkillers. To access the drugs, person X published a false prescription, passed as genuine. Consequently, person X is guilty of forging or altering a prescription.
Uttering a False Prescription
Another element of this crime is uttering a false prescription. As used in the legal definition of the forgery or altering of a prescription offense, Uttering is different from its use in regular conversations. You are guilty of uttering a prescription if you use words or actions to convey that specific drug usage is genuine or when you use statements to pass a forged prescription as authentic to attempt to use it as an original. An example is taking a forged medication to a pharmacist and claiming you acquired it from your doctor.
Definition of a Drug
A drug is any chemical substance that, when taken, alters the natural functioning of the body. It could include medical drugs that require prescriptions or medicines that can be accessed without prescriptions. The severity of charges depends on the type of drug prescription altered or forged and its effects on the body. Lastly, the crime involves drugs that can be prescribed; prescribed drugs can be meant for human or animal consumption.
Drugs are categorized into five schedules as per the US Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The schedules are based on the drug's safety, possible abuse of the drug, and its medical uses.
- Schedule II drugs are drugs with a high possibility of abuse and are also employed for medical treatments. Examples of such substances are painkillers and narcotics such as morphine. Schedule III drugs are considered as drugs accepted for medical usage and considerable potential abuse. They are considered safer than schedule II drugs. An example is antidepressants and steroids.
- Schedule IV and Schedule V drugs are at a lower potential of being abused than all other schedules. An example is prescription cough medicine.
What the Prosecutor Needs to Prove for the Defendant to be Found Guilty
For you to be convicted of forging or altering a prescription, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the charges. Being apprehended for a crime does not automatically mean you are guilty of the said crime. The court places the burden of proof on the prosecutor. The prosecutor should search for evidence that incriminates you. Therefore, with an experienced criminal defense attorney's guide, the evidence against you can be nullified or deemed insufficient, thereby letting you off the hook without a conviction or at least a mild penalty.
For you to be found guilty of forging or altering a prescription, the prosecutor must prove that:
- You forged or altered a prescription.
- You knew that the prescription was forged or altered, but you still used it or attempted to use it.
- You gave false information to be issued a prescription.
However, you do not have to undergo a trial to be convicted of forging or altering a prescription. If you formally admit or confess to committing the offense, you will be found guilty without going to court; the same case applies in pursuing a negotiation for a plea bargain.
The more experienced an attorney is in handling criminal defense cases, the sturdier your trial advocacy will be, and the greater the outcome of the case for the defendant. Your attorney can negotiate for a plea bargain or convince the prosecutor not to file charges against you. Moreover, if your penalty is probation, your attorney can fight for the penalty to be reduced to a fine and community service. However, requesting for a jail sentence penalty to be reduced to probation. Consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to know legal negotiations are suitable for your case. Some appropriate legal safeguards for forging or altering prescription charges are:
Demonstrating Addiction by Medical Testimony
If a defendant is addicted to prescription drugs, they can convince the court to give them a probationary term. A medical report from a licensed medic will be required to demonstrate that the defendant is suffering from addiction. If probation is granted, you will be required to undergo a compulsory rehabilitation and drug counseling program. You will also be subject to random searches of your car and house. A violation of the probationary terms leads to the application of full penalties for the crime you committed.
Authority to Prescribe
If you are an authorized medical practitioner, facing forgery or altering prescription charges, your attorney can argue that your occupation's nature allows you to give or change prescriptions. If you lawfully modified instructions on drug usage, you cannot be charged with this offense.
A coerced confession is whereby you are forced into accepting guilt of a crime you did not commit. Coerced confessions can be obtained through the passing of threats, inflicting physical injuries, or manipulation. An example is when violence or a firearm is used to make you admit to a crime. If applicable, your attorney can argue that you felt threatened or physical pain was inflicted on you, forcing you to confess to the offense.
False accusations from a person with malice can lead to a charge of forging or altering a prescription. With the right analysis of the evidence presented against you, your attorney can prove that you were framed. One way of doing this is ascertaining that you did not sign or write the prescription.
Suppressing of Evidence
Conducting a search or seizure without a search warrant is illegal. If, for example, you are put into custody, and the police officers had no valid reason to arrest you, they may decide to search your car or house without your consent or a court permit. If they conduct the search or seizure without a license, you can suppress any evidence they find against you by arguing that they acquired it by violating your rights. Filing a motion to suppress evidence will put the burden of proof on you and your attorney. You are required to prove that the evidence in question was obtained unlawfully.
On the other hand, the prosecutor will put forward facts and reasons why the evidence should not be dismissed. The judge can approve the motion as a whole or a part or reject it. If part of the motion is approved, then some of the prosecutor's evidence will be dismissed, thus weakening the prosecutor's case against you. Furthermore, if the request is wholly accepted, the prosecutor must drop the charges against you, and the case will be dismissed. However, it is essential to note that suppressed evidence can still be used against you in deportation or parole hearings.
Other alternatives to the above defenses, your lawyer argues that you did not know that you were not authorized to write or change the prescription. Attorneys also use the legal safeguard to help lessen the charges and penalties against their clients.
California’s pretrial diversion is an option that defendants can take before trial to avoid judgment being made for the charges against them. Diversion programs are of two types, namely mental health programs and Misdemeanor diversion. The latter includes drug diversion programs. Consequently, if charged with a misdemeanor of forging or altering a prescription, you can pursue a drug diversion program.
If you are a first-time prescription drug offender, the diversion Program helps you acquit the charges against you and dodge penalties by completing probation and a drug rehabilitation program. That is, your attorney can help you request to undergo rehabilitation programs before your case is judged in court. After the successful completion of a rehabilitation program, the judge may dismiss the charges against you.
Before 2018, for a respondent to pursue a diversion program, they had to plead guilty to the charges against them. It meant that judgment was already made, and if the rehabilitation failed, the deferred penalties would be significant. However, with the 2018 amendment of this statute, you can now apply for such programs without pleading guilty. Once you complete the program, your record can be sealed.
Penalties for Forging or Altering a Prescription
Forging or altering a prescription is a wobbler crime; therefore, the prosecutor can charge you for a misdemeanor or a felony offense. The charges against you largely depend on your criminal record. The first time you commit a crime, the prosecutor is lenient in filing charges, and you may also face mild penalties. However, if you have a criminal record, you may face felony charges, and if found guilty, the penalties will be severe.
Furthermore, the prosecutor also considers other factors such as the nature of the drug prescribed, whether you wanted to sell the drug, and the available evidence against you. Whether you are being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, the legal guidance and representation of a top-tier attorney are critical. Lawyers possess the knowledge and experience to handle criminal law proceedings and are therefore adapted to the courts' language. Consequently, there’s a greater chance of a successful case with a lawyer by your side.
A conviction of forging or altering a prescription as a misdemeanor carries a one-year county jail term, informal probation of up to five years, or a fine of not more than $1,000. On the other hand, a conviction of the offense as a felony will be subject to a fine of up to $10,000, formal probation, or 16 months to 3 years County jail term.
Fortunately, a court can suspend a defendant's sentence under certain conditions. Consequently, you can be granted probation of three to five years with a few terms. Terms for a misdemeanor offense conviction are undergoing random drug tests, doing community service, and completing drug counseling sessions.
Similarly, for a felony offense conviction, you will be given a condition of probation and random searches of your premises and car. You will also be required to regularly report to a probation officer to undergo random drug tests. The police are allowed by the court to search your house and car; therefore, any evidence found against you during such searches is legitimate.
If you are on probation for the forging or altering of a prescription offense and commit another crime, the probation can be revoked. Consequently, you can be subject to the sentence penalties stipulated for the crimes committed.
Prescription Drug Possession
Possession of any controlled substance without an authentic prescription is a violation of the California Health and Safety Code 11350. This offense is punishable under California law as a misdemeanor when committed for the first time. The penalty for a first offense is a one-year jail term. However, if convicted for the crime more than once, you will face felony charges carrying 16 months or a two-year county jail term. If the court permits probation, a first offense carries a fine of $1,000, and a repeat of the crime will have a $2,000 fine.
Prescription fraud is trying to obtain a controlled drug by concealing some facts, uttering false statements, or affixing an incorrect label on a drug’s packaging. The crime is a violation of the California Health and Safety Code 11173. The offense also entails "doctor shopping."
Doctor shopping is whereby you go from one doctor to the other, and the same medication is prescribed for the same ailment multiple times. Prescription fraud entails any act of deceit where a person uses illness as an excuse to acquire more drugs. Whenever they visit a doctor, they conceal information that they had prior treatment and present the case as a new one. An example of doctor shopping is a person who is suffering from a cold going to three different doctors and being treated for the cold. In the end, they obtain three prescriptions of medicine for the cold.
This crime is a wobbler, meaning you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the circumstances under which the crime was committed. As a felony, prescription fraud carries a sentence of up to three years.
Find a Defense Attorney Near Me
If you or someone close to you is facing forging or altering a prescription charge, hiring an expert criminal defense lawyer to handle your case is critical. At Leah Legal, we will offer you customized criminal defense services specific to your case. Leah Legal is a trusted criminal defense law firm offering defense services in Van Nuys. We are fierce and passionate about fighting for our client's rights and best interests throughout the court proceedings. You can contact us for legal representation at any stage of your case. We also offer free consultations on all new cases, so please call us and talk to us about your case. Contact us at 818-484-1100 to speak with a white-collar criminal attorney today.