Over the past decade, the state of California has taken progressive steps to reform drug laws and remedy the harsh prosecution of drug crimes, particularly offenses for simple possession. However, the state still takes drug crimes very seriously and can impose steep fines and lengthy prison sentences to penalize defendants for convictions. Facing a drug charge is a confusing, frightening and overwhelming experience for most people, but retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney who specializes in drug crimes can help you strategically approach this situation and achieve the best outcome in your case.
Learn more about drug crimes by consulting the information below, then contact Exum Law Offices today to discuss your case. Our firm can protect your rights and build a strong defense to help you fight these charges, achieve reduced penalties or even have the charges dismissed altogether.
Possession Of A Controlled Substance
The California Health and Safety Code 11350 HS prohibits the possession of “controlled substances,” defined as a drug or chemical whose use, possession and manufacture are regulated under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. Controlled substances refer to illegal street drugs like cocaine, heroin and LSD, as well as the unlawful possession of prescription medications without a valid prescription. Simple possession, also known as possession for personal use, involves having an illegal drug or narcotic in your possession or under your control, regardless of whether you actually touched or held the drug.
To prove this charge, the prosecution must demonstrate the following five essential elements of the crime:
- You possessed a controlled substance.
- You did not have a prescription for the substance.
- You knew about the presence of the substance on your person or property.
- You knew it was a controlled substance.
- The substance was found in a usable amount.
Penalties For Possession Charges
Penalties vary depending on the type of drug, with Schedule 1 drugs classified as more dangerous, resulting in harsher penalties than Schedule IV drugs that are considered less dangerous. Possession is typically charged as a misdemeanor crime punishable by a maximum county jail sentence of one year and a $1,000 fine. As a substitute for jail time, the judge may impose misdemeanor probation for first-time offenders. If the defendant has a prior conviction for a felony or sex crime, the judge may charge possession as a felony, increasing the jail term by up to three years. In other cases, the defendant may qualify to enroll in a drug diversion program to avoid jail time.
Sentence Enhancements For Possession Charges
If you are arrested with a quantity of drug that officers consider in excess of what would be expected for personal use, you may be charged with possession with “the intent to distribute.” This charge is more severe than simple possession but less severe than distribution, meaning the penalties will likely be higher than what would be imposed for possession but lower than those imposed for distribution. Unfortunately, enhancing a charge from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute is a subjective decision on the part of the arresting officer that depends primarily on how the drugs are packaged or if they are found with other paraphernalia used to measure or sell drugs, such as a scale.
Distribution Of A Controlled Substance
The California Health and Safety Code 11352 HS prohibits the distribution of controlled substances, including cocaine, heroin, LSD, peyote, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and GHB. The distribution of a controlled substance, also known as drug dealing, refers to the sale, trade, exchange or transport of illegal drugs or prescription opiates. Distribution charges involve larger quantities of drugs than possession charges, typically at least an ounce of the substance. If law enforcement officers find cash in the same location as the drugs, this suggests that either a sale was already made or that one person was in the midst of purchasing drugs from another person.
To charge you for distribution, the prosecution must prove that you knew of the drug’s presence, you knew it was a controlled substance and you either sold it, furnished it, administered it, gave it away, transported it to sell, imported it into the state of California or offered to perform any of the above actions. Sentencing for this offense is mainly based on the type of drug involved, with penalties increasing for more severe drugs.
Penalties For Distribution Charges
Distributing controlled substances is considered a felony in California, punishable by felony probation, a county jail term of three, four or five years under the state’s realignment program and a maximum fine of $20,000. Furthermore, this offense is considered a “deportable crime” according to federal immigration law, meaning pleading guilty to or being convicted of this crime can cause you to be deported at any time, regardless of your legal immigration status.
Aggravating Factors For Distribution Charges
Judges can enhance sentencing due to the presence of aggravating factors, such as the type of drug, the amount sold, the location where it was sold, the specific individuals who bought the drug and the criminal record of the defendant.
- Quantity: Selling large quantities of heroin, cocaine or cocaine-based drugs increases the imprisonment term depending on the specific amount. This ranges from an additional three years for drugs weighing over one kilogram to an additional 25 years for drugs weighing over eighty kilograms. All additional sentences for weight enhancements involve further fines of $1 million to $8 million.
- Location: Selling heroin, cocaine or cocaine-based drugs within 1,000 feet of a drug treatment facility, detox facility or homeless shelter adds another year to a jail sentence.
- Specific individuals: Judges typically impose the harshest penalties for selling, administering, giving away or otherwise providing drugs to someone you know who is pregnant, was convicted of a violent felony or was in treatment for a mental health condition or drug abuse problem.
- Minors: Employing or otherwise utilizing a minor under 17 years of age to sell, give away, prepare for sale or peddle a drug, or providing or offering to provide a drug to a minor will result in a state prison sentence of three, six or nine years. An additional one to two years can be added if the drugs were heroin, cocaine or cocaine-based and the sale took place within 1,000 feet of a school, church or other facility regularly frequented by minors. If you are at least four years older than the minor, you may also face a separate state prison sentence of one, two or three years.
- Prior drug convictions: A prior conviction for a drug crime, excluding offenses that involve personal use, can add an additional three years to your sentence for every prior conviction on your record.
Protect Your Freedom And Your Future
If you have been charged with a drug crime, contact Exum Law Offices immediately to discuss your case. For more than 25 years, criminal defense attorney Darryl Exum has provided expert legal representation to clients facing a variety of drug possession and sales charges in Riverside, San Bernardino and the rest of the Inland Empire. His impressive record of favorable results includes extensive trial experience defending over 1,000 clients in state and federal prosecutions. He offers dedicated services, personalized attention and clear communication from the very beginning of your case, so you know what to expect during every stage of the process.
Drug charges pose a significant threat to your freedom and your future. Contact Exum Law Offices today by calling us at 951-934-0227 to learn how we can create a formidable defense against these charges, protect your rights and aggressively advocate on your behalf in court. The sooner you hire our services, the sooner we can begin building a strategic defense to challenge the prosecution’s case and protect your future.