All states control and regulate the possession and use of substances, though the definition for drug-related offenses and penalties differ from state to state. California has stringent drug laws in the United States. Possessing controlled substances and compounds used for their manufacture is a serious offense, punishable by a lengthy prison time and hefty fines. The gravity of the crimes depends on the nature and amount of drugs.

If you face charges for possession of controlled drugs in Riverside, CA, it is advisable to seek the help of an experienced criminal attorney. Proper defense against your charges could compel the court to dismiss or reduce your charges. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will be with you from the start to the end of the legal process, protect your rights and ensure you attain a favorable outcome of your case.

Legal Definition

Controlled substances is a collective term used to refer to drugs or chemicals whose possession, manufacture, and use are regulated by the government. They could be illicitly-used substances or prescription drugs that the law has designated. California categorizes various controlled substances into five classes, starting with the most addictive to the least addictive. You are allowed to have some substances like marijuana in smaller quantities for personal use. But if the substances exceed a particular amount, you could face serious criminal charges for possession for sale or distribution. It is good to seek legal help if you face charges for possessing controlled substances in California.

The law against possession of illegal substances in California is under the state HS 11350(a). The law makes it an offense for anyone to have an illicit street drug or prescription medication without a proper prescription in their person or property. The violation is also referred to as simple possession of controlled drugs.

You could violate this law in many ways, including having controlled substances in your person or anywhere else but under your direct control. You could face charges under this law for simple possession of any narcotic or drug that California or federal law has made illegal or for which you don’t have a proper prescription.

California HS 11350(a) also provides the elements of this offense. They are the facts the prosecutor must demonstrate before a court to find you guilty of the charges. These elements are:

  • That you were in possession of a regulated drug
  • You didn’t have the prescription or authorization to have the said drug
  • You were aware of the presence of the drug in your possession
  • You knew the nature of the drug in your possession as a regulated substance
  • The amount of the substance was usable

The law must classify the said drug as a regulated substance under the U.S Controlled Substances Law. The state and national government must regulate its possession, use, and manufacture. Here is a list of drugs that this law mainly covers:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Peyote
  • LSD

But the statute also covers prescription medication that you might not have their prescription, including:

  • Ketamine
  • Valium
  • Hydrocodone or Vicodin
  • Xanax
  • Oxycodone or oxycontin
  • Codeine

Note: This statute does not cover marijuana and other stimulants. The law against possession and use of marijuana is under California HS 11357. On the other hand, possession and use of stimulants like methamphetamines are under California HS 11377.

To understand this particular statute even better, let us look at some of the elements in greater detail:

The Possession

California HS 11350(a) is only concerned with the possession of a regulated drug. You are in possession of something if you have control over it. Control could be direct, or in person, or through someone else. You do not have to hold the drugs or touch them to be in their possession.

Possession of controlled drugs can take three forms:

  • Actual possession — You are in actual possession of controlled drugs if the drug is physically with you, in your hands, your pockets, in a bag you are carrying, or anywhere else in your person. The police are likely to arrest and charge a person for the illegal possession of controlled drugs if they find the drugs in the person’s actual possession.
  • Constructive possession — A controlled drug could be in your constructive possession if it’s in a place where you can easily reach it. It could be in your vehicle, home, or any other location within your reach.
  • Joint possession — You could be in joint possession of controlled substances if you and another person or people have control of the drug in question. The police are likely to charge you with joint possession of drugs if they find a controlled drug in a shared space. It could be a house where more than one person lives or a car that two people or more use. If you and your relative or friend buy drugs, each of you will face charges for joint possession of the controlled drug.

Note: Agreeing to buy a drug doesn’t automatically mean that you’re in control of that drug. Possession occurs when the transaction is complete, and the control of drugs shifts from the seller to the buyer. Also, two people or more can be in possession of the same drugs simultaneously. You could also be in possession of a drug without necessarily having it close to you.

The Knowledge

California HS 11350(a) requires two types of knowledge:

  • That you were aware of the presence of controlled substances in your possession
  • You knew the nature of the substance as a controlled drug

These are other facts of this offense that the prosecutor must prove for the court to give you a guilty verdict. But the prosecutor doesn’t need to demonstrate that you knew the particular controlled drug found in your possession. The only requirement is for you to have known that the substance was in your possession and that it was an illegal drug.

Drugs in Usable Amounts

This statute requires the offender to have just enough controlled drugs for their personal use. A usable amount means that the quantity is enough for the person to use as a controlled drug. Minimal traces of the drugs will not count as usable amounts and will not support possession charges. However, a usable quantity of drug need not be enough in strength or quantity to intoxicate the user.

Note that having more controlled drugs than you need will cause you to face other charges, like possession for sale.

Possession of Analog of Controlled Drugs

California HS 11350(a) applies to being in possession of a regulated drug. However, this law also makes it illegal for anyone to be in possession of an analog of any controlled drug. An analog, in this case, refers to any of the following:

  • A substance that has a similar chemical composition to that of a particular controlled drug
  • A substance that has the same or more significant effect on a human being’s central nervous system as a controlled drug

Penalties for possessing an analog of a particular controlled drug will be the same as penalties for possessing the controlled drug.

Possible Legal Defenses

If you face charges for possessing a controlled drug in California, it helps to know that you can defend yourself against your charges. It becomes even easier if you have the help of a competent criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney will prepare a solid defense against your charges, using some of the available defense strategies for charges like these. If successful, the jury might decide to reduce or dismiss your charges, depending on the circumstances of your case. The best defense strategies that could help your case include:

No Possession

You can only be guilty under this statute if the police find you in possession of a drug. If not, the court will dismiss your charges. But your attorney has to prove before a jury that you did not have the said drugs. It could be that the drugs were in possession of another person or your roommate, and not you. The kind of defense your attorney will use will depend on the evidence the prosecutor has against you.

Note that the burden of proof always lies with the prosecutor in cases like these. If the prosecutor cannot fully demonstrate that you had the said drugs, you will not be guilty, and the court will drop your charges.

Lack of Knowledge

You could not be guilty of possessing a regulated substance if you did not know that the substance was in your possession in the first place or the nature of the drugs.

If you borrowed your friend’s jacket, and they had a stash of drugs in the pocket, you might not have known the existence of the drugs even if the drugs were in your possession at that time. Or, someone else had given you the drugs to keep or carry for them, but you had no idea about the kinds of substances they were.

In any of those examples, you lacked knowledge, which is an essential element of this offense. If you manage to convince the court of your innocence regarding the presence or nature of the drugs, the court might drop your charges.

Presence of a Legal Prescription

As previously mentioned, California law lists some prescription drugs among controlled drugs. You require a legal prescription from a physician, podiatrist, dentist, or veterinarian to obtain them. If the police arrested and charged you for possessing drugs like these, you could produce a legal prescription during the trial as proof that you had the legal authority to have the drugs. Without the authorization to obtain the drugs, it becomes easier for the prosecutor to prove your charges in court.

If the police find you in possession of controlled prescription drugs, they will arrest you if you do not show a prescription right away. It could be that you lost or misplaced the prescription and could not produce it at the time of the arrest. Your attorney will work hard during the crime investigation period to ensure that he/she has sufficient proof to demonstrate in court that you had the prescription to obtain the said drugs.

Illegal Search & Seizure

People do not openly carry or use controlled drugs because of the stringent drug laws throughout the country. In that case, it becomes hard for the police to find and arrest perpetrators in the act. In most cases, the police only act after receiving information from members of the public. However, they do not make arrests right away; they search and seize any drugs found in possession of suspected perpetrators before arresting and taking them to the station.

The problem is that the police must follow a procedure for searching and seizing illegal property, even when arresting suspects. It becomes easy for defendants to cite police misconduct or unlawful search or seizure when detained for offenses that require a search or seizure before arrest.

The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution protects public members against unreasonable search and seizure by the police. The law requires California criminal courts not to admit any evidence gathered through illegal search and seizure.

Therefore, if the police searched your person or property without a search warrant, or they exceeded the provision of their search warrant, you can use this as a defense to have any evidence gathered against you inadmissible in court. That might leave the prosecutor with not enough proof to support a conviction. The court might reduce or dismiss your charges.

Momentary Possession

Your attorney can use this defense strategy if you were indeed in possession of controlled drugs, but only for a moment, without intending to use or transfer them. It could be that you took the drugs from another person planning to abandon, dispose or destroy them. A competent attorney will know the right words to use to convince the court of your pure intentions and have it dismiss your charges.

Punishment for Possessing a Regulated Substance in California

Most cases regarding possession of a drug are prosecuted as misdemeanors, attracting the following penalties:

  • A maximum jail time of one year
  • A fine or not exceeding $1,000

However, sometimes the prosecutor might charge some cases as felonies, mainly in situations where the defendant has a previous conviction of a severe or sex-related crime in their criminal record. If you face a felony conviction for possessing a dangerous drug, you could receive a maximum jail sentence of three years.

Additionally, you could be subject to a drug court or drug diversion program for possessing a dangerous drug. You might qualify for a treatment program like this if your drug-possession case was non-violent. In that case, you’ll serve your jail sentence in the drug treatment program.

The drug diversion program is under California PC 100. It is a pretrial diversion program for cases involving simple possession of controlled drugs. The program allows defendants facing non-violent drug-related charges to obtain education and treatment instead of jail time. Once you complete the program, the court might dismiss all your charges, leaving you without a criminal record.

A conviction under HS 11350(a) could also carry severe immigration consequences for U.S non-citizens. The U.S Immigration law lists down specific convictions that could cause a non-citizen to be deported or declared inadmissible into the country. They include convictions for specific drug-related offenses. It means that you could face deportation or be marked as inadmissible into the U.S if a California court finds you guilty under HS 11350. You might need the help of a highly skilled criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and cause the jury to reconsider its decision.

Additionally, a conviction for simple possession of a regulated drug could affect your gun rights. California gun laws state that convicted felons are prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm in the state. If your possession case is prosecuted as a felony and the court finds you guilty, you might automatically lose your gun rights. When that happens, you might have to surrender your gun if you already have one in your possession.

Fortunately for you, you could petition the court to expunge your conviction under California HS 11350(a) to avoid facing the consequences of having a criminal record. California expungement laws enable people who already have a criminal conviction to start a new stage in their life, one in which they will not worry about the effects the sentence might have on their life. For instance, you are likely to miss out on several job prospects with a criminal conviction in your record. An expungement clears out the sentence so that it cannot affect your effort to find suitable employment.

However, the court can only grant your expungement request after completing the jail term or probation and paying the necessary fines (whichever applied to your case). You also must be free from any criminal charges when applying for expungement.

Possession of Controlled Drugs and Related Offenses

California law has three offenses that are closely related to illegal possession of a regulated drug. They are:

Possession for Sale of Controlled Drugs

The law against possession for sale of controlled drugs is under California HS 11351. Both possession of drugs and possession of drugs for sale are similar offenses, with the main difference being intention for possession. Possession for personal use or simple possession is generally a misdemeanor, attracting a much lighter sentence than possession for sale.

The elements for both offenses are generally the same, but for the latter, the prosecutor must demonstrate in court that you intended to sell or resell the drugs in your possession. The intent to sell is the main element of HS 11351 and the most challenging element to prove by the prosecutor. But the quantity of drugs can, in most cases, be used to prove intent. For instance, if a person has more drugs in their possession than an ordinary person needs for personal consumption, it could indicate their intention to distribute or sell.

The packaging of the drugs in your possession can also indicate your intent to sell. For instance, you cannot repackage drugs for personal use in bundles or baggies.

The presence of other items like measuring instruments and weighing scales could also indicate intent to sell or resell the drugs.

Possession for the sale of controlled drugs is a felony, punishable by a maximum of four years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

Transportation and Sale of Controlled Drugs— California HS 11352

California HD 11352 makes it illegal for anyone to sell controlled drugs, transport drugs for sale, administer or furnish other people with controlled drugs, give away controlled drugs or offer to do one of these acts. Transporting for the sale of controlled drugs involves moving the drugs from one place to another, intending to sell, distribute or give them away.

You could face charges under this statute and not HS 11350(a) if the police found drugs in your possession but were only transporting them for sale. The drugs must be in usable amounts. Note that the prosecutor does not need to prove in court that you were selling drugs. They only need evidence of you moving the drugs from one location to another (however short the distance is) and your intention to sell the drugs.

Transporting for the sale of controlled drugs is a felony offense in California, punishable by a maximum of nine years in prison.

Find a Competent Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you face charges for possessing controlled drugs in Riverside, CA, you might need the help of an experienced criminal attorney to avoid a conviction. Your attorney will use any available defense strategy to fight your charges and compel the court to reduce or drop your charges. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will be with you from the start to the end, protecting your rights and ensuring that justice is served in your case. Call us at 951-946-6366 and let us together plan a solid defense against your charges.