The unlawful use or possession of a controlled substance is a criminal offense. This encompasses street drugs, like heroin or cocaine, but also prescription medication, such as Vicodin or fentanyl. Drug crime penalties differ across different states, with California being one of the harsher ones.

Drug crimes may include possession of drugs, possession of drug paraphernalia, distribution or sale, cultivation or manufacturing, and drug trafficking. There are five schedules of controlled substances in California. They range from the most controlled, schedule I, to the least in ascending order. Schedule I includes things like opiates or mescaline, while schedule V includes lesser-controlled prescription drugs, such as low doses of codeine.

What is Possession?

While it is often assumed that you must have a controlled substance on your person to be charged with possession, this is not the case. There are three different types of possession that you can be charged for. These are actual possession, constructive possession, and joint possession.

Actual possession is having drugs on your person. Constructive possession is less simply defined. Generally, it means that a drug is somewhere you can easily access it (such as in your car, in a locker, or stashed somewhere within reach. For constructive, drugs must be within your control, which essentially means there is nothing stopping you from getting physical possession of the drug. Joint possession happens when multiple people have ownership of a controlled substance. This usually occurs when drugs are found in a shared area or if people pool money to buy drugs.

What are the Penalties of a Drug Crime Conviction?

Depending on the specifics of the offense, a drug crime may fall into either the felony or misdemeanor category. The main factor in determining the severity of the punishment of a drug crime is whether there was an intent to sell or not. In cases where there is no intent to sell, you will most likely face a misdemeanor and may qualify for drug diversion treatment instead of jail time. However, if there was intent to sell, the crime becomes a felony and therefore carries longer jail time, between 16 months and three years.

Added to that, a criminal record related to possession of a controlled substance will affect the possibility of employment, especially in any government job. It may also cause you to have difficulty finding a landlord who will rent to you, prevent financial aid for college, and hurt your chances in custody cases. If you are here on a visa or green card, these can be revoked, and a felony charge can lead to deportation.

What Can I Do if I Am Charged with a Drug Crime?

There are several arguments that can be made when fighting a possession charge. These include, for example,  saying you had a valid prescription for the drug you were arrested for possessing (or at least that it cannot be proven that you didn’t have such a prescription), that you were not aware of the presence of the drug, that the substance belonged to someone else, or that the search and seizure that led to your arrest was unlawful.

For expert legal answers and help with controlled substance cases, please call us at 562-991-6298.