Under California Health and Safety Code 11350(a), possessing a controlled substance without a legal and valid prescription is a crime. Under this statute, a controlled substance could be an illegal drug like cocaine and heroin or legal prescriptions drugs obtained unlawfully. Possession of a controlled substance can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony that carries severe penalties. Additionally, the consequences of having a conviction for this type of crime on your record will affect you long after serving the prison sentence and paying the fines. A drug-related conviction will linger in your criminal record and could affect your ability to obtain employment and other aspects of your personal life.

If you or a loved one is confronted with an accusation or charges for possession of a controlled substance, it would be wise to enlist the services of a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer. At the Koenig Law Office, we understand the extent of damage that a conviction under HS 11350(a) could do to your life. Therefore, we work hard to build a solid case and ensure that all our clients facing charges for possession of a controlled substance in Bakersfield, CA, avoid a conviction and the penalties associated with the crimes.

Overview of California Health and Safety Code 11350(a)

The use of drugs and drug addiction has serious negative effects on people’s lives and communities. Additionally, using these illegal substances increases the susceptibility to other crimes. For this reason, California law has legal statutes that seek to punish individuals involved in the drug-related offense. One of the most commonly prosecuted crimes involving drugs in possession of a controlled substance under Health and Safety Code 11350.

Being in control or actual possession of a drug deemed illegal will result in arrest and criminal charges under this statute. Before you face a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the prosecution must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

You Possessed a Controlled Substance

You are considered to be in possession of something if you have control over it personally or through a third party. As denied under HS 11350(a), a controlled substance is an illegal drug that could negatively affect your health and welfare. The state and the federal government have laws that regulate the use and possession of different drugs. Most people assume that controlled substances are only drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. However, some lawful medications could be classified as controlled substances with no valid prescription.

Controlled substances are classified into different categories, including:

  1. Schedule I drugs. Schedule one substances are drugs that do not have any therapeutic value, and their consumption often leads to abuse. Some of these drugs include heroin, Ecstasy, and LSD.
  2. Schedule II drugs. Most substances classified under schedule two are narcotics and stimulants, which could result in severe psychological dependence, including oxytocin, methadone, hydrocodone, and morphine, among others.
  3. Schedule III drugs. Drugs under this category often result in psychological and physical dependence but not abuse, and they include ketamine, Anabolic S, and Suboxone.
  4. Schedule IV drugs. Compared to other drugs, schedule IV has a low possibility of abuse.
  5. Schedule V drugs. These drugs have the lowest level of narcotics and could include cough syrup.

During the prosecution for violating HS 11350(a) charges, the prosecution must prove different forms of possession:

  • Actual possession. This is the immediate physical control of the controlled substance.
  • Constructive possession. You may be charged with possession of a controlled substance if the drug was not found on you but was in a space that you control.
  • Joint possession. You can still face possession charges when you share constructive possession or control of a substance with another person. In most cases, prosecutors come up with this classification when you face an arrest and try to argue that the drugs belonged to another person.

You did not have a prescription for the substance.

A controlled substance could be an illegal drug like cocaine or prescription medications obtained without a legal or valid prescription. Therefore, before a conviction, the prosecution must prove that you did not have a valid prescription for this offense when prescription medications are involved.

You knew of the Substance’s Presence.

You cannot be found guilty of violating Health and Safety Code 11350 unless the prosecutor proves that you knew of the presence of the substance and the alleged substance was, without doubt, a controlled substance under California or federal laws. However, it is crucial to understand that the prosecutor does not need to show that you know the exact nature and type of substance.

You were in Possession or Control of a Usable Amount of the Controlled Substance

Another element that the prosecution must establish to secure a conviction for possession of a controlled substance is that you had a reasonable amount of the product that is enough to be used as a controlled substance. Traces of illegal substance debris cannot be sufficient to prove that you possessed a controlled substance.

If you face charges for possession of a controlled substance based on possessing an analog of a controlled substance, the prosecutor must show that:

  • The substance found in your possession has a structure that is similar or closely related to a controlled substance
  • The effect of the substance found in your possession has a similar consequence as a controlled substance

Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance in California

Possession of a controlled substance is a wobbler. At their discretion, the prosecution can charge you with e felony or a misdemeanor depending on the following factors:

  • Type of substance. Controlled substances are classified into different schedules depending on their usefulness and effect. An arrest for possession of a heavily regulated drug like cocaine may result in a felony charge. In contrast, cases resulting from the possession of prescription medication will result in misdemeanor charges.
  • Amount of substance found in your possession. When you are found to possess a significantly high amount of the controlled substance, the prosecution could assume that you intended to distribute or sell it and thus charge you with a felony. In most cases, possession of a small amount of the drugs meant for personal use will attract misdemeanor charges.
  • Intent. An arrest for possession of a controlled substance could trigger extensive investigations to determine your intent with these illegal substances, and the intent may determine whether you face felony or misdemeanor charges.
  • Your criminal history. California law is very strict on repeat offenders. Therefore, your criminal history will play a significant role in determining the nature of your charges and the sentencing. If you have a prior conviction for a drug-related offense, serious felony, or sex offense, the prosecutor will likely charge you with a felony.

A conviction for violation of HS 11350(a) is punishable by:

Jail/Prison Time

Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, a conviction for possession of a controlled substance will land you in jail. As a misdemeanor, the offense attracts a jail time of six months. However, if the offense is charged as a felony, a conviction is punishable by a prison sentence of ten years.

Fines

Sometimes, an individual facing charges for possession of a controlled substance may be required to pay a substantial amount in court fines. For misdemeanor convictions, fines amount to $1,000. On the other hand, a felony conviction may result in a fine of up to $10,000 or even higher.

Drug Diversion Program

Drug diversion is a program that allows defendants facing criminal charges for a drug crime to have their charges dismissed after completing a drug treatment program. If you are charged with possession of a controlled substance under California HS 11350, you may be eligible for the drug diversion. However, it would be best if you met the following criteria:

  • Within the five years following the commission of this crime, you must not have been convicted for another drug-related offense
  • Your crime did not involve violence or criminal threats.
  • There is no evidence of a drug-related offense following an arrest for possession of a controlled substance.
  • You have no prior felony conviction dating five years before the commission of the charge.

When the prosecuting attorney reviews your case and determines that you are eligible for the diversion, they will write a notification to the prosecutor indicating the nature of your charges and the plea you entered in the case. When the diversion program is agreed upon, you will be required to complete a drug treatment program, after which your charges will be dropped.

Probation

In California, probation is an alternative to jail time. After a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the judge could sentence you to probation. This means that you will spend part of your entire jail or prison sentence outperforming community service. Probation can be formal or informal, depending on the nature of your charges. Informal probation is often part of a misdemeanor conviction, and it lasts between one to three years.

On the other hand, formal probation is a sentence for a felony conviction, and it lasts up to five years. If you are sentenced to formal probation, you will be required to follow the following terms of probation:

  • Regular check-ins with your probation officer
  • Random drug testing
  • Payment of all court fines
  • Attend drug counseling
  • Avoid violating the law while on probation

If you violate any of the above terms, the court could revoke your probation and reinstate the initial jail or prison sentence.

In addition to prison time and fines, a conviction for possession of a controlled substance under California HS 11350(a) has lifelong consequences that could include:

  • Negative immigration consequences. Possession of a controlled substance is a serious offense under California law. Depending on the specific circumstances of your case, a conviction for the offense may result in deportation or being rendered inadmissible in the United States.
  • Loss of your gun lights. If you face a conviction for a felony violation of HS 11350(a), you will lose your right to purchase, own or use a firearm.
  • Difficulty obtaining a job. Criminal convictions are a public record in California. When a potential employer carries out a background check on you, they will discover this conviction and use it as a basis to deny you the job.
  • Challenges when renting an apartment. If your felony conviction is revealed during a background check, a landlord could be reluctant to rent you an apartment.
  • Custody cases. A conviction for a drug-related offense on your record could give your child's other parent an upper hand during custody battles.

Defenses against Health and Safety Code 11350(a) Charges

Possession of a controlled substance may seem like a pretty simple criminal charge. The police officers may try to convince you that you were found with the illegal substances, and you will automatically face a conviction. However, the issues of possession of illegal substances are complex, and not all arrests will result in a conviction. With the guidance of a skilled criminal defense attorney, you can present these defenses against your case:

Lack of Knowledge of the substance’s Presence

Before securing a conviction under this statute, the prosecution must prove that you knew of the substance’s presence. Additionally, you must have known that the substance was illegal. Being unaware that you were in possession of an illegal drug cannot constitute the necessary evidence required to convict you for the crime.

Lack of Possession

Finding an illegal substance near you does not always mean that you were in possession or control over it. The prosecutor has the burden to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the substance found belonged to you. This defense strategy could be effective when police officers discover drugs in a common area.

Lawful Prescription

You cannot be found guilty of possession of a controlled substance if you had a valid prescription from a certified dentist, physician, or podiatrist. The prosecutor must show that your possession of the controlled substance was legal and justified during the trial.

Illegal Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects all individuals from illegal searches and seizures. Police officers must have a strong probable cause or warrant to search your property or vehicle. When the officers overstepped their boundaries, they could be guilty of illegal search and seizure. 

In most cases, drugs and other controlled substances are discovered during illegal searches, some of which are based on anonymous tips. Fortunately, evidence collected during an illegal search cannot be admissible in court. Therefore, your attorney can file a motion to exclude that evidence which can, in return, weaken the prosecutor’s case against you.

Offenses Related to California Health and Safety Code 11350(a)

Several drug crimes are related to possession of a controlled substance in their nature and elements. Mostly, these offenses are chard together with or instead of HS 11350(a), and they include:

     1. Possession of a Controlled Substance for Sale

Under California Health and Safety Code 11351, it is a felony to possess a controlled substance to sell it. A controlled substance, in this case, is any substance whose manufacture, the law regulates possession or use. If you face an arrest for possession of drugs and the prosecution finds an indication of an intent to sell, you could be charged with possession with an intent to sell instead of simple possession. Some of the ways through which the prosecution can prove an intent to sell include:

  • Possessing large quantities of the illegal substance
  • Discovery of huge sums of money, especially in small denominations
  • Illegal substances packaged in small quantities
  • Presence of scales and other packaging material

Possession of a controlled substance to sell is a felony punishable by a prison sentence of up to four years and $20,000 in fines.

     2. Sale or Transportation of a Controlled Substance

Transporting, selling, administering, or furnishing a controlled substance can result in arrest and criminal charges under Health and Safety Code 11352. During the prosecution for this crime, the prosecutor must prove that you moved the drug a distance away and knew of the drug's presence. Additionally, your intent or offer to transport or furnish the drug must be clear.

Sale or transportation of a controlled substance is a felony whose conviction attracts a five years jail sentence and fines not exceeding $20,000. If you face charges for any of the offenses related to possession of a controlled substance, you will require the guidance of a skilled criminal attorney.

Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

The California legislature recognizes the damage that drug use and addiction can cause to people’s lives and communities. Therefore, California laws on drug use, possession, and sale are stringent. Possession of a controlled substance is one of the most commonly charged crimes. You can face an arrest and criminal charges for possession of a controlled substance if you are found in actual possession or control of a usable amount of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or even some prescription medications.

Possession of a controlled substance is charged under California Health and Safety Code 11350(a), and a conviction attracts serious legal consequences. Fortunately, not all arrests for violating HS 11350(a) will result in a criminal conviction. With the guidance of a competent criminal defense attorney, you can fight the charges and avoid the harsh consequences that accompany a conviction. At Koenig Law Office, we have extensive knowledge in defending drug-related charges in Bakersfield, CA, and we will guide you through the case to ensure the best possible outcome. Call us today at 661-793-7222 to discuss the details of your case.