Not all drugs are equally dangerous, which is why California has different penalties for possession, distribution and other crimes based on the specific drug in question. The state even handles the possession of cocaine and “cocaine base” (the legal term for crack) differently from one another based on the latter’s more potent nature. If you have been accused of possessing, selling, manufacturing, or trafficking either form of cocaine, speak with a defense attorney as soon as possible.
Cocaine Possession Laws
California has two levels of drug possession charges: those for personal use and those for sale. There is no set quantity of drugs to define possession of cocaine for personal use vs. possession for sale. If you are charged with possession of cocaine for sale, your attorney can help you fight the charges by arguing that you possess a lot of cocaine simply because you use a lot of it or because you were trying to save money by buying in bulk.
Claiming you intended to personally use either cocaine or crack in your possession is a strong defense, given that under California Health and Safety Code 11350 (HSC), possession for personal use is only a misdemeanor, punishable by no up to more than one year in jail. Most people facing charges for a first offense will even qualify for a drug diversion program. If you are required to register as a sex offender or have certain serious felonies on your record though, you will instead face felony-level charges, punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
The Distribution or Sale of Cocaine
When there is actual evidence you had the intent to sell either of these controlled substances, aside from the quantity of drugs you possessed, you could be charged with selling or distributing a controlled substance under 11351 (HSC). Even if you gave the drug away for free, you could be charged with this crime. You can also be charged for attempting to distribute the drug, even if you were unsuccessful in trying to share or sell cocaine.
Do not attempt to defend yourself if you have been accused of this crime because it can be very easy to say something that can further incriminate you. Always refuse to speak to the police without your criminal defense attorney present.
If you have been charged with selling or distributing cocaine, you can face 2-4 years in prison. When the charges involve attempting to distribute crack cocaine, the penalty goes up to 5 years. If the buyer or recipient was a minor, if you sold the drugs within 1000 yards of a school, or if you sold the drug in public, you can face more severe penalties.
Trafficking Charges in San Diego
Transporting cocaine for the purpose of selling is charged under the state penal code section 11352 (HSC), which carries the same penalties as actual sales charges, up to five years prison. Transporting cocaine to a noncontinuous county carries up to 9 years, meaning that going from L.A. to San Diego with enough cocaine in your car to sell, for example, can get you 9 years in prison.
While there is no set limit to define whether something qualifies as simple possession or possession for sale, if the amount of cocaine in your possession was very large, you could face additional sentencing on top of whatever other sentence you are given. For example, if you have more than 1 kg, you can face an additional 3 years, and more than 80 kg can result in 25 years!
This quantity enhancement is not a separate charge, so you will not face these enhancements if you are found innocent of the possession or sales charge. This enhancement is based on weight, so it doesn’t matter if you possessed 1 kg of nearly 100% cocaine or 1 kg of cocaine cut down to only 10% purity, you will face the same penalty.
Cocaine Paraphernalia Laws
Cocaine paraphernalia could include snorting spoons, storage vials, crack pipes, etc. Paraphernalia can also include products, such as scales, sifters, small bags, that were used to sell the drug if you have been suspected of cocaine sales. Possession of paraphernalia is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months of jail time. If you have paraphernalia on top of being in possession of the drug, the prosecution will also be able to use this as additional evidence against you.
Other Cocaine Laws
If you were in possession of a gun when arrested with cocaine or crack in San Diego, you can face a separate crime for carrying a gun and drugs. The weapon must have been loaded at the time, but if it was, you could face another 2-4 years in prison.
Using cocaine while driving is a criminal offense, similar to driving while using methamphetamine. You can even be charged with driving while addicted to drugs if you are not on the drug at the time but still demonstrating symptoms related to cocaine or crack addiction.
California law even prohibits being under the influence of cocaine or crack, even if you were not in possession of the drug at the time, as long as the substance impairs your mental abilities to any extent. While this offense is punishable by jail time, most offenders are offered the opportunity to participate in a drug diversion program. Fortunately, this criminal offense is reasonably easy to challenge under the law as it is difficult for prosecutors to prove conclusively that the use of the substance actually impaired you. Even if you didn’t use drugs but helped someone else use them, you could be charged with a crime.
If you have been accused of any drug crimes related to cocaine use, sale, distribution or paraphernalia, contact a top criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. You can schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss by calling (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024.