Vista Criminal Attorney is a highly experienced and knowledgeable law firm specializing in criminal defense, serving everyone from clients in and around the Vista, CA area.

The reliable attorneys who are from the firm are qualified in California criminal law and can handle all types of drug possession cases for their clients. There are various possible ways and defenses for a drug possession charge, some of which include arguing that the prescription drug was issued by a licensed doctor. Also, another possible defense is to argue that the defendant had no known knowledge or recollection that the drugs were in their possession.

What is Drug Possession in Relation to California Law?

According to the California Health and Safety Code 11350, it states that every person who possesses any controlled substance which is a narcotic drug, unless upon the written prescription of a dentist, physician or veterinarian licensed to practice in this state (California), shall be punished by imprisonment in state prison.

Drug possession is usually and mostly charged as a misdemeanor in the state of California. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime which is usually punishable by fines or some jail time but it’s still considered a crime.

For drug possession to be charged and proved there are various options that have to be adhered to, and they are;

  1. Actual possession meaning the accused carried the substance on his or her person or in the defendant’s vehicle. This means the defendant actually possesses it either in his hands, person or pocket.
  2. Constructive possession means the defendant had control over the substance. This can be in the house or vehicle or somewhere where he has control over.
  3. Joint possession means where two (2) or more people are involved therefore may possess the substance. This can be in the case where a drug is found in a home where the persons involved were knowledgeable of its whereabouts and had control over it. For instance, the home of two roommates is searched and drugs found in the refrigerator. There is joint possession because they both knew of its whereabouts because they all had access to it.

For example, Kevin was stopped by a police officer because he was driving on the wrong lane of the road. As Kevin was trying to explain why he was on the wrong lane the officer noticed a white substance on the car’s dashboard. The officer requested Kevin to get out of the car, as the officer had a closer look at the substance which was found to be heroin. Kevin admitted to owning the drug and was arrested for drug possession.

This classifies as a charge because there was constructive possession. If Kevin was with another person who also admitted to using and had knowledge of it then joint possession would also apply. But if Kevin was found to have the said drug in his pocket or had ingested it then that would be actual possession.

But there is also the concept of simple possession, what it entails is that the defendant or accused intended to sell the said controlled substance. This can also lead to being accused of possession with the intent of distribution which is a more serious offense. This can happen if it is shown and proven that there were large or enormous quantities of the controlled substance and the intent to distribute it widely was apparent like by the packaging of the drugs or strictly the quantity of the drugs.

What is a Controlled Substance?

A controlled substance is a drug or chemical whose manufacture, possession and use are regulated by the government under the United States “Controlled Substances Act”.          

These drugs are subject to the California Health and Safety Code 11350 in terms of possession. There are charges if there is proof of possession without proper approval such as from a medical doctor or professional to use.

The physical drug itself is not the only thing that can lead to a misdemeanor or charge. If there is proof to show that there was intent to make or create the controlled substance illegally, the charge of drug possession can be valid. This can be in the form of being found in possession of certain chemicals that are necessary for a controlled substance to be formed or made like cocaine.

The list of controlled substances examples that if found in possession might result in a misdemeanor are;

  • Possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana
  • Possession of cocaine or opium
  • Possession of steroids like testosterone

What the Prosecutor Must Prove in a Drug Possession Charge

For a conviction on drug possession to happen under the California Health and Safety Code there are various facts that must be proved. It is on the burden of the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the court that a crime did actually occur.

For the guilty verdict to be passed there has to be enough proof and there should not be an ounce of doubt from the court regarding the crime. What must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt are the following:

  1. The controlled substance is really or actually an illegal narcotic
  2. There was unlawful or illegal possession of a controlled substance;
  3. There was ample or adequate knowledge of its presence;
  4. The controlled substance in question and contention was known to be an illicit drug;
  5. A controlled substance was of a usable or adequate quantity.

The following elements have to be proved for such a charge to lead to a conviction. With it being a real illicit narcotic, this is quite obvious if being charged with drug possession. There has to be an actual or real controlled substance or drug as part of the evidence. It has to be a controlled substance for such a charge to be real or bring any kind of conviction. There cannot be a charge of possession of glucose; it has to be a charge of possession of cocaine or heroin (a controlled substance). The prosecution will not charge the defendant if there is no illegal drug or substance that was found in possession. There is no crime or harm done.

The possession of the controlled substance must be illegal or unlawful to have it or be in possession. Here possession meaning that the said drug is available in your places of controls such as your home, car or pockets. It being unlawful means that there is no prescription from a certified medical professional to have it.

But there will not be a conviction or charge if knowledge of the substance was not available or inadequate. For example, Joe moved into his friend’s home who went out of town for a couple of weeks. The local law enforcement moves in to search the home and find 50 grams of marijuana (controlled substance). Joe is arrested on grounds of possession of a controlled substance. But a charge is not brought against him because Joe had no knowledge on the presence of any controlled substance. The drug was unknown to him until the police discovered it and it was not his, so he has no charge to answer to.  

In terms of knowledge or knowing that the substance in possession is a controlled substance, the prosecution has to prove the defendant knew that it was an illegal drug. For example, a steroid like testosterone is being used by Steven occasionally. What the prosecutor has to prove beyond reasonable doubt is that Steven knew that the steroid testosterone was a controlled substance and that he knew it was an illegal drug or substance to have in possession. In such a case the burden of proof is with the prosecution. If Steven did not know that the drug was an illicit substance then he does not have a case to answer and no crime committed.

Usable quantity meaning that there is a sufficient amount of the controlled substance to be used by the user. Having traces of the controlled substance either on your clothing’s or vehicle will not constitute the drug being of enough quantity to be used. The prosecution cannot bring a charge of drug possession under this circumstance just by the fact that the drug or controlled substance was not of usable quantity.

What Are the Punishments and Penalties for a Possession of a Controlled Substance Charge?

According to California Law, if convicted of a drug possession charges a defendant risks facing;

  • up to a year in prison, and or
  • a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).

However, you will face a felony penalty that is 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in prison for this offense if a defendant has any of the following convictions in his record:

  • a conviction for any of a small list of especially serious felonies, including murder, sexually violent offenses, sex crimes against a child under 14, and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or
  • a conviction for a sex crime that subjects you to California's sex offender registration requirement.

Drug Diversion Program

What can also happen is having an alternative or different sentencing such as a drug diversion program. This usually occurs if there is a first-time offender so your criminal history or background is important as it will be the deciding factor on whether to be part of a drug diversion.

Furthermore, your sentencing may be delayed due to this program as the court awaits completion of the program which is roughly 18 months at a time. The good news is once completed successfully the defendant’s case is dismissed therefore there is an avoidance of conviction.

But for a person to be eligible or even be considered into the program there should be a plea of guilty on the part of the accused to the drug possession crime or you must agree to the terms of the plea bargain.  

Legal Defenses to Drug Possession Charges or Cases

Having a drug possession charge being brought or filed isn’t the end of the world because there are various defenses to use in a court of law. With a reputable and experienced lawyer working on the case that charge can actually be overturned or dismissed.

The various defenses to use include the following;

There was a Valid Prescription

If a drug possession charge was brought against the defendant while there was a valid explanation as to why the controlled substance was in the defendant’s possession then the charge will have to be dropped.

In this case, there is a valid prescription to have the said controlled substance in possession.

But there has to be proof to show that it was from a licensed or reputable medical doctor or physician.

Also, the specific amount of the controlled substance prescribed should just be right. If there is excess from the prescription there is a possibility of being arrested for drug possession of the extra drugs.

But all in all, if a valid prescription exists and the instructions from the physician are adhered to then a charge will not stand. There is no case to answer because there is an adequate defense against the charge.

Possession was Unavailable or Lacking

Possession has to be proved and that is actual, constructive and joint possession. But if either one of these types of possession cannot be proved there is no way a charge will be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Knowledge was Lacking

For example, Ken rented his vehicle to John for a whole week. John was supposedly going out of town for a while. A week passes with John returning the rented car to Ken’s home. Several days pass and police come to Ken’s home with a search warrant. They search his home and eventually search the car finding several rolls of marijuana at the back seat. Ken is arrested for drug possession. It is later established that Ken had no prior knowledge of the drugs’ existence. Ken is not charged and acquitted or released because lack of knowledge was used as a defense, so no crime committed.  

Ken didn’t know that the drugs existed and were actually in his vehicle. John placed the controlled substance in his car, therefore, Ken cannot be punished if he knew nothing about the possession of the illicit drug or narcotic.

The lack of knowledge is the defense to utilize here.

The Controlled Substance was Not an Illicit Drug or Substance

If Daisy was found in possession of glucose or baking soda, but the police accused her of having a controlled substance. This charge won’t stand because there was no narcotic or illegal substance found with her.

There has to be possession of any controlled substance which is a narcotic drug for a drug possession charge to be valid in accordance with the California Health and Safety Code 11350.

There is no charge or a case to answer if there is no narcotic substance found in the defendant’s possession.

An Illegal and Unlawful Search and Seizure

The law enforcement cannot just search any home without proper documentation like a California search warrant. A homeowner has to be shown the warrant and go through it or read through it to understand the scope or extent of the search in question. It has to be valid and if not it will be considered an unlawful search and seizure.

If any controlled substance was confiscated during this illegal search and it was provided as evidence in a court of law, that evidence can be dismissed therefore be inadmissible. The case will fail because of this fact because of the accused raised the defense of illegal search and seizure.

The Character of The Controlled Substance was Not Known

A defense can be raised if genuinely and innocently there wasn’t any possible way the person accused or defendant did understand that it was an illegal narcotic drug.

Here the burden of proof is with the prosecution, to show that the accused or defendant had adequate knowledge of the controlled substance.

But there is no charge or case to answer if this defense is raised and proved to show the defendant did not know about the character of the controlled substance.

There was Entrapment

This involves being encouraged to break the law by an officer, for instance, an undercover officer. In drug possession, this can be coercion to either buy or sell a controlled substance to an undercover officer.

This defense can be raised to prove that the drug possession charge has to be dismissed because there was no sufficient proof.

Find a Vista Criminal Attorney Qualified in Drug Possession Cases Near Me

For any of these defenses to be impacting and successful in any criminal trial, you will need the expertise, knowledge, and experience of a law firm like Vista Criminal Attorney. We have skilled criminal defense attorneys who can succeed in navigating the ins and outs of a drug possession case and successfully argue in your defense.

Call our Vista Criminal Attorney at 760-691-1551 to speak to one of our highly professional and qualified legal experts regarding your drug possession charge or case. You need us in your team so don’t hesitate to call today!