Simple Possession of Controlled Substances in California?
A person may be charged with simple possession of controlled substances if they are ever caught with illegal drugs or medication without having the right prescription or legal exemptions. However, being charged with possession of a controlled substance is not the same thing as being convicted, and the process for conviction is complex and open to defense by the right California attorney.
Simple Possession of a Controlled Substance Defined
Being convicted of this crime relies on the prosecution meeting a number of specific definitions.
There are multiple elements that the prosecution must prove to convict the accused of simple drug possession. The five steps are:
- The defendant must possess a controlled substance. Thus, the defendant cannot be charged if their friend has the substance and they are sitting next to them when their car is pulled over.
- The defendant must not have a prescription for that substance.
- The defendant must know of the substance's presence on their person, in their vehicle, or otherwise under their charge. For instance, if a person was pulled over in a vehicle they were borrowing and a substance was discovered, they could defend themselves by claiming that they did not know the substance was present when they sat behind the wheel.
- The defendant must know that the substance was a controlled substance and not something more innocent. If a bottle is unmarked, it may be difficult for the prosecution to prove that the accused knew it was a controlled substance, for example.
Technically, a controlled substance may be any type of powerful medication or drug that requires a regular prescription. But in most cases, controlled substances that qualify for criminal charging includes a well-known list of drugs, such as:
Merely possessing one of these drugs without the right license, prescription or other legal exemption is enough to be charged with a crime according to California Health and Safety Code 11350 HS.
However, be aware that stimulants and marijuana are not covered under this code. Instead, codes 11357 and 11377 cover the possession of marijuana and stimulants, respectively, and may carry different penalties.
Simple Possession vs Other Types of Possession
“Simple” possession is any type of possession of a controlled substance with the intent of personal use. Thus, possessing a drug with the intent to give it to someone else or to sell it for profit are classified under different laws (Sections 11351 and 11352, specifically).
Therefore, simple possession of controlled substances is:
- holding one of the above controlled substances
- without a license or prescription
- with the intent to use it yourself
Note that defendants can not normally claim to “hold” a controlled substance for no reason at all. A prosecutor will assume (and easily convince a judge or jury that) that the substance was meant to be used either personally or by another person.
Examples of Simple Possession of Controlled Substances
- A college student purchases cocaine on a dare and is caught during a party that they attend. They did not intend to sell the cocaine or give it to anyone else.
- A pharmacy worker steals some opiates from the medical cabinet at their workplace with the intent to use them for their back pain.
- A jogger finds discarded drugs on the sidewalk and keeps them for himself, planning to try them when he gets home.
- A nurse drives her vehicle home. During a regular ticket stop, the police officer questioning her and finds Vicodin in the glove box without a prescription.
Penalties for Simple Drug Possession
In most cases, simple possession of controlled substances is charged as a misdemeanor. This is because the accused was not convicted of giving the drugs to someone else or participating in the drug trade as a seller.
A misdemeanor simple drug possession charge carries potential penalties like:
- A fine of up to $1000
- Imprisonment in county jail for up to a year
- Probation after jail time has concluded
Additional penalties based on one's immigration status may also apply. For instance, a person convicted of simple drug possession may be deported to their home country.
Defenses for Simple Drug Possession
Capable California defense attorneys can erect multiple defenses to help those accused overturn their charges and avoid conviction.
Possession Did Not Occur
The legal definition of possession is a little different from the layman's definition. To be in possession of a controlled substance, the accused must have control over it. This does not necessarily include touching or holding the substance. However, it does mean that possession extends to storage units or items that the accused owns.
Agreeing to purchase a controlled substance does not extend to possession. Furthermore, possession may be shared by two or more people. Lastly, possession is reliant on knowledge.
With all of these details, a defense attorney can make the case that the accused did not possess a controlled substance because of certain circumstantial factors or lack of knowledge.
The Accused Had a Lawful Prescription
A valid and written prescription for controlled substances excuses people from being charged with simple drug possession. A lawful prescription might be produced after an arrest, and the prosecution must prove that a valid prescription did not exist. A skillful defense lawyer can easily help those with valid prescriptions get away from these charges.
Unlawful Search and Seizure
People are protected by the US Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which states that unlawful or unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement are illegal. Thus, if a police officer obtains a controlled substance or evidence of a controlled substance from an unlawful or unreasonable search or seizure, that evidence may not be admitted in court.
A defense lawyer could use this to get charges dropped or reduced.
Why Do I Need a California Drug Possession Defense Attorney?
Skilled defense attorneys like Peter James Chambers have made a career around helping people like you avoid convictions for charges like simple possession of controlled substances. Making the call today is your best bet at escaping conviction and avoiding various penalties. Contact the Law Office of Peter James Chambers today for a free consultation.