If you have been accused of drug possession in California, you will face charges under Health and Safety Code 11350 (HS). While you may be terrified, the good news is that, with the help of a San Diego criminal defense lawyer, most people charged with drug possession for the first time within five years qualify for a diversion program, allowing them to keep the offense off their record. Unfortunately, California laws can be complex, and sometimes people say things to police officers that can result in them being charged with more serious offenses, such as possession for sale, that cannot be resolved through diversion programs. If you have been caught with drugs in your possession in San Diego County, avoid speaking to the police until you have contacted a skilled defense attorney to protect your rights.
What Drugs Fall Under 1350 (HS)?
The great majority of drugs used for illegal purposes fall under this law, including:
- Opioids, such as heroin, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Vicodin, and Codeine
- Hallucinogens, including magic mushrooms, LSD, peyote, and mescaline
- Stimulants, for example, cocaine and crack
- Party drugs, like MDMA or ecstasy
- Narcotic drugs that are legal by prescription only, including Adderall, Xanax, ketamine, and Valium
A handful of stimulants are covered separately by California Health and Safety Code 11377 (HS). This law prohibits the possession of drugs such as:
- Anabolic steroids
While the two laws cover different substances, they are otherwise quite similar and detail similar penalties, including the option for a diversion program.
Possession of marijuana for personal use is completely legal in California for those over the age of 21.
What is the Penalty for Drug Possession in California?
Since the passage of Prop 47 in 2014, California has allowed the majority of people accused of simple drug possession to qualify for a drug diversion program that enables offenders to avoid jail time and keep the offense off of their criminal record. Even for those ineligible for a drug diversion program, these charges are usually misdemeanors, punishable by no more than one year in prison.
Unfortunately, some people cannot benefit from the reduced penalties applied under Proposition 47. Registered sex offenders and those with prior convictions for serious violent crimes are excluded from these lighter sentences. Those who do not qualify for sentencing under Prop 47 can face either misdemeanor or felony charges for 11350 (HS). As a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is up to one year in jail, but felony charges can carry a sentence of up to three years in state prison.
If you have any questions about the specific penalties you may face under these charges, please call your San Diego drug possession defense lawyer to discuss your case.
Take Possession Charges Seriously
Because most offenders qualify for diversion programs, some people think it’s no big deal to be arrested with drugs. But there is a fine line between simple possession 11350 (HS) and possession for sale 11351 (HS), and all too often, people who thought they would be facing simple possession charges end up being accused of drug sales. Since no set quantity distinguishes possession from sales charges, prosecutors instead file charges based on statements made by the accused, as well as circumstantial evidence such as the presence of scales, baggies, balance sheets, or large amounts of cash.
Even if you only face charges under 11350 (HS) though, you could face more serious consequences if you already have a prior conviction on your record within the last 5 years, making you ineligible for a diversion program.
Minors are at particular risk when it comes to drug crime charges because even a misdemeanor drug possession conviction can result in the loss of driving privileges for an entire year. Some drug crimes, even simple possession charges, can even disqualify someone from qualifying for scholarships or certain forms of student aid, so even if the sentencing is minimal, it’s still important to keep a drug conviction off of your record whenever possible.
Charges Related to Drug Possession
Many people charged with drug possession will face other charges as well. Because it’s common to end up facing other criminal allegations in addition to drug possession, you should always avoid saying anything to the police without your criminal defense attorney present.
You can also face separate felony charges if you have been caught with a firearm while in possession of certain drugs such as cocaine, PCP, methamphetamine, or heroin. This offense is punishable by up to four years in prison and will cause you to lose your right to possess or own firearms.
Fighting Drug Possession Charges
Aside from helping you enter a drug diversion program, a defense lawyer can also help you fight these charges in other ways. For example, an attorney may be able to help you fight the offenses in court to avoid a criminal conviction if you were only arrested after police illegally stopped and searched your vehicle and found you were in possession of drugs because this evidence should be suppressed, leaving the prosecution with too little evidence to prove your guilt.
Alternatively, your lawyer may be able to show that while the drugs were found on your property, you were unaware of their presence, meaning you cannot be charged with possession of a controlled substance.
In some cases, your best option is to let your attorney negotiate a plea bargain that will minimize the severity or number of charges you are facing, which could allow you to enter a diversion program.
When you speak with a lawyer about your specific situation, he should be able to tell you what your best course of action will be, whether it is to fight in court, negotiate a plea bargain, or seek out a drug diversion program.
Whatever you do, avoid speaking to the police without your attorney present, as this could destroy your defense. For example, if you attempt to protect yourself from these charges by telling police that the substance they have discovered is a prescription drug, this could be used as evidence against you if you do not have a valid prescription. If you have a legal prescription, this could still be seen as a confession if you are accused of driving on a medication that could affect your driving abilities.
Anyone facing drug possession charges should contact attorney Peter M. Liss. To schedule a free consultation where you can discuss your case and any diversion programs you may qualify for, call (760) 643-4050.