Under California law, only licensed medical practitioners can legally prescribe drugs. Obtaining medicine or a narcotic by altering or forging a prescription is a severe offense under California Business and Professions Code 4324. Regardless of whether you use a prescription to acquire the drug or not, you can face an arrest and charges for altering or forging a prescription. Violation of BPC 4324 is a wobbler. The prosecution can decide to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. The consequences of a conviction under this statute are severe, especially when you face felony charges.

Therefore, you must begin planning your defense against these charges as soon as you face an arrest. The moments following an arrest can be confusing. Therefore, hiring and retaining a skilled criminal defense attorney is crucial. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will examine every aspect of your case and build a strong defense against the charges. We serve clients seeking legal advice and representation to fight criminal charges in Riverside, CA, to ensure the best possible outcome.

Overview of California BPC 4324

Drug prescriptions are a crucial part of treatment for different diseases. In California, only authorized individuals can legally issue or alter the prescription contents. Although you can purchase some medications over the counter, most require a physician’s prescription. The strict rules on drug prescription are aimed at creating awareness about the addictive nature of prescription medications.

The measures outlined by the law seek to punish individuals who possess or write a fake prescription. Under BPC 4324, altering or forging a prescription is a white-collar crime committed by:

  • Anyone who attempts to present or presents a fake or forged prescription
  • Individuals who utter false prescription
  • Anyone who uses another person’s prescription to obtain drugs for their personal use
  • Forging of a physician’s signature to prescribe medication

A white-collar crime is a non-violent offense committed solely for monetary gain. Before you face a conviction for this offense, the prosecution must prove these elements of the crime:

     1. You Were in Possession of a Prescription

When you visit a doctor or physician, they assess your condition and write down a prescription of drugs you need to use for the specific condition. However, prescriptions do not have a manual, and the list of medications your doctor can recommend is long. A doctor can issue a prescription via email or write it on a prescription pad. Charges for forging or changing a prescription begin with being found in possession of a prescription.

A prescription has standard content, including the patient’s personal information, medical condition, type of drug, quantity, and appropriate use. Additionally, the prescription will include the contacts and other details regarding the doctor. When proving your guilt under BPC 4324, the prosecutor must prove that you possess the prescription.

     2. The Prescription You Possessed Was Altered, Forged, or Obtained Unlawfully

Editing a prescription involves changing the information on an already issued prescription. This may include changes in the current date or increasing the medication dosage on the prescription. The drug dosage outlines the number of drugs you need to take each day and the duration for which you must use the drugs. Increasing the number of tablets you need to take per day could create an opportunity for unnecessary refills before the period of treatment ends.

Forging the prescription means writing a fake prescription and presenting it as authentic by signing a doctor’s name. Another element that must be clear when proving that you forged or altered a drug prescription is uttering a fake prescription. The court will find you guilty of uttering a prescription if you use actions or words to pass information that the usage of a particular drug is genuine.

     3. You Received or Planned to Receive Medication Using the Altered or Forged Prescription

The final element of BPC 4324 that a prosecutor needs to prove to secure a conviction in your case is your intent to obtain medication using the fake prescription. Although there are drugs that you can purchase without a prescription, many of them require one. California law prohibits both the selling and purchase of medicines without a prescription. Therefore, you and the pharmacist selling drugs with the altered prescription will face criminal charges.

In addition to drugs for human consumption, there are severe veterinary drugs that require a prescription to purchase. If you alter or forge a prescription for these drugs, you could face an arrest and charges under BPC 4324.

Penalties for Altering or Falsifying a Prescription in California

A violation of Business and Professions Code 4324 is a wobbler. This means the prosecution can charge you with a misdemeanor or felony under this statute. Although the prosecutor has the discretion of choosing how to charge your crime, they may rely on the following factors:

  • Facts of your case. Circumstances of your case that may help in the decision to charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor are the type and quantity of drug on the false prescription. 
  • Criminal history. If you are a repeat offender with a history of felony drug convictions, the prosecutor may lean more towards charging you with a felony. For a first-time offender, altering or forging a prescription for a single pack of sleeping pills is likely to be treated as a misdemeanor.

When charged as a felony, forging or altering a prescription attracts a prison sentence ranging from 16 months to 3 years and a maximum of $10,000. On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction is punishable by a one-year county jail sentence and a fine that does not exceed $1,000.

Sometimes, the court may sentence you to probation instead of jail or prison time for altering a prescription. In California, probation is formal or informal, depending on the nature of your charges. When the court offers probation for a misdemeanor conviction, you can serve your entire sentence out of jail. However, with felony probation, you must serve part of your jail sentence and do the rest on a three to five-year probation.

Although facing a probation sentence keeps you out of jail, the courts set strict conditions you must follow throughout the probation period. Some of the standard probation terms following a conviction for forging a prescription include:

  • Random drug testing
  • Counseling
  • Payment of all your court fines and penalty assessment fees
  • Warrantless searches for your persona and property 
  • Avoid further criminal conduct
  • Community service

In addition to these conditions, defendants on felony probation must make regular check-ins with their probation officer. When the court considers you for probation, the probation department appoints a probation officer to monitor your case. During your meetings with the probation officer, you must report your progress.

Violation of any of the above probation conditions results in harsh consequences. For example, if you commit another crime while on probation for forging a prescription, you will face punishment for the offense and for violating probation. The penalties for violating probation include revocation of probation and reinstatement with harsher conditions or reinstatement of the initial jail sentence.

Legal Defense Against California BPC 4324 Charges

The consequences of a conviction under Business and Professions Code 4324 are severe and life-changing. In addition to spending time in jail or prison, having a conviction for this offense will negatively affect your relationships and professional life. Therefore, a charge of violating this statute will require an aggressive defense from an experienced attorney. Your lawyer can explore any of the following legal defenses to fight your charges:

Lawful Prescription

You will only face a conviction for violating BPC 4324 if the prosecution can prove that your prescription was altered or forged. Especially for individuals with known drug addiction, you may be suspected of having a fake prescription when you try to purchase medication. Additionally, some pain medications could cause addiction and thus be mistaken for controlled substances.

If you visited a clinic and received a legitimate prescription from your physician, it is easy to prove your case. In addition to the testimony from your doctor, your lawyer can call an expert witness to verify that the symptom you exhibit would warrant the prescription you received. The court will dismiss your charges if there is sufficient proof that your order is authentic.

Lack of Knowledge that the Prescription was Modified or Altered

Your knowledge that the prescription was altered is vital when proving your liability under this statute. A forged prescription is not enough to find you guilty under Business and Professions Code 4324. The prosecution must establish that you knew of the altered or forged nature of the document and that you intended to present it to obtain the drug or medication.

If you can prove that you did not know the alleged prescription was fake, you cannot suffer a conviction under this statute. For example, you can face an arrest for presenting a fake prescription for morphine at a pharmacy. However, if you prove that you were filling the prescription for a friend who suffered an injury and did not know where the prescription was written, you are not guilty under this statute. Whether or not you knew the purpose of the drug on the medication does not affect your case.

You did not Sign the Prescription.

Accusations from someone driven by jealousy, anger, or revenge could see you battle charges for forging a prescription. Proper analysis of evidence from the prosecution and witness testimonies can help your attorney argue that you are a victim of false accusations. Another way through which you can prove false accusations is by arguing that the signature on the prescription was not yours. Through forensic handwriting analysis, you can be eliminated from the situation.

You did Not Know that the Drug on the Prescription was Obtained Unlawfully

You could face criminal charges if you are found in possession of some medicines. The prosecution could couple up your substance possession charges using a forged or fake prescription. However, if you can prove that you did not know that the prescription used to obtain the drugs was fake, you are not guilty under this statute.

The Doctor’s Office Made a Mistake

Human beings make mistakes all the time. As your physician writes your prescription, they could make an error and cancel. Unfortunately, when you present such a prescription at a pharmacy to purchase the medication, you could face an arrest on suspicion of altering or forging a prescription. With the help of a skilled attorney and testimony from the doctor, you can prove your case and have the charges dismissed.

Mandate to Prescribe

As a licensed practitioner, you have a right to write or alter a prescription accordingly. If you face criminal charges for forging or altering a prescription, your lawyer can claim that the nature of your occupation mandates you to change the contents of a prescription. If you legally change drug use instructions, you cannot face a conviction under this statute.

Drug Addiction

Prolonged use of some pain medication is addictive. If you can demonstrate to the court that you are addicted to pain medications, you could receive probation instead of jail time for forging a prescription. However, you must understand that you will need medical testimony to ascertain this fact. If you receive a probation sentence under these circumstances, the court could order that you undergo drug counseling and random drug tests as probation conditions.

Illegal Search and Seizure

It is not uncommon for police officers to uncover false prescriptions for medications and controlled substances during an illegal search of your vehicle or your house. In California, law enforcement officers must have a valid search warrant before searching your property. Therefore, you can file a motion to exclude all the evidence collected through the illegal search.

However, it is crucial to understand that the prosecution will not allow their evidence to be dismissed without a fight. Therefore, they can present arguments why that evidence should remain in your case. If your attorney can convince the court to dismiss a portion of the evidence, the prosecutor’s case becomes weak and gives you a chance to avoid harsh consequences from the conviction.

Federal Controlled Substance Act

Under 21 USC 843(a)(3), acquiring or obtaining a controlled substance through fraud, forgery, or misrepresentation is an offense. This section of the federal law is designed to punish:

  • Pharmacists or doctors who falsify large numbers of drug prescription records
  • Individuals who traffic large amounts of drugs using forged prescriptions

A violation of USC 8439a) (3) is a felony. A conviction under this statute attracts up to four years of imprisonment for a first offense. If you are a repeat offender, you risk facing a maximum of eight years and paying $250 000 for this offense.

Offenses Related to Violation of BPC 4324

Altering or forging a prescription is a severe offense. The crime could attract more serious penalties when coupled with other related offenses like:

  • California Health and Safety Code 11368

HSC 11368 makes it a crime to engage in the following acts:

  • Alter or forge a prescription for a narcotic
  • Use a false prescription to obtain a controlled substance
  • Possession of narcotics obtained using a fake or altered prescription

When compared to BPC 4324, HSC 11368 is a more serious offense. This is because HSC 11368 focuses mainly on altering or forging prescriptions for illegal drugs. If the prosecution files charges for violating BPC 4324 and finds additional evidence proving that the alleged prescription was for a narcotic, you will face a conviction under HSC 11368. Under this statute, a narcotic is anything from cocaine, morphine, opium, and Demerol, among others.

Like BPC 4324, altering a prescription for a narcotic is a wobbler. If the prosecution files misdemeanor charges, a conviction under this statute attracts a jail sentence ranging from six months to one year. Additionally, the court may require you to pay a $1,000 fine.

A felony conviction under HSC 11368 is punishable by a maximum of three years in state prison. Sometimes, the court may spare you from jail or prison and sentence you to probation. Probation is offered for both misdemeanor and felony convictions.

  • Health and Safety Code 11173

California HSC 11173 criminalizes the use of fraud or fraudulent attempts to obtain a prescribed controlled substance. You commit a crime under this statute if you obtain a prescription for a controlled substance through:

  • Deceit, misrepresentation, or fraud
  • Concealment of material facts

Individuals who can be charged for this offense include:

  • Patients who attempt to obtain a prescription for a controlled substance fraudulently.
  • Medical professionals who make false statements in order, record, or prescription
  • Individuals who falsely misrepresent themselves as doctors, pharmacists, nurses, or any other professional allowed to write a prescription
  • Anyone who attaches a false label to a package containing a controlled substance

While medical practitioners can fight these charges by claiming that they acted in good faith, a person who is not licensed to write a prescription will face a conviction. Violation of California HSC 11173 is a wobbler. AS a felony, using fraud to obtain a prescription for a controlled substance is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.  A felony conviction will attract up to three years of imprisonment and a minimum of $20,000 in fines. You must seek legal guidance if you or your loved one faces criminal charges under this statute.

  • Health and Safety Code 11153

Although medical professionals are licensed to write prescriptions, a doctor or physician could face charges for prescription fraud. Medical professionals engage in prescription fraud by prescribing a controlled substance that:

  • They are not meant for legitimate medical purposes
  • They are not allowed in the course of their usual professional practice

Depending on the nature of the drug under prescription and other factors of the case, prescription fraud for medical professionals is a wobbler. A misdemeanor conviction under this statute attracts a one-year jail sentence, while a felony conviction will see you spend up to three years in jail.

  • Possession of a Controlled Substance

Under California HSC 11350(a), possessing a controlled substance without a valid prescription is a crime. A controlled substance, in this case, is any chemical or drug whose manufacture, sale, possession, and consumption are regulated by the state or federal government. Before you face a conviction for possession of a regulated substance, the prosecutor must prove these elements:

  • You passed a controlled substance.
  • You did not have a prescription for the substance
  • You knew of the presence of the substance
  • You knew the substance’s nature as a controlled substance under California law.
  • The amount of the substance in your possession was usable

Possession of a restricted substance is a misdemeanor. A conviction for the offense attracts a one-year sentence in county jail and a $1,000 fine. For repeat offenders and individuals with a history of violent felonies, the prosecution can bring felony possession charges.

Find a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Unless you are a licensed physician, writing or modifying a prescription for a drug or controlled substance will attract criminal charges. Although California BPC 4324 is a white-collar crime and no violence is involved, a conviction attracts severe legal penalties. Whether you face a felony or a misdemeanor conviction, you risk facing a lengthy jail or prison sentence.

If you face criminal charges for violating California Business and Professions Code 4324, the best way to approach your case is by hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney. With the guidance of your attorney, you can explore different legal defenses against the charges to avoid the consequences of a conviction under this statute.

At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand the repercussions a conviction for forging or altering a prescription will have on your life. Our top-notch attorneys will offer the legal guidance you need to fight and beat your charges. If you or your loved one faces criminal charges in Riverside, CA, you will need our legal expertise by your side. Call us today at 951-946-6366 to discuss more details of your case.