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Average Sentence for Drug Possession in California

by Lindsay Chambers

According to California Health and Safety Code 11350(a), you can face legal consequences if the authorities catch you in possession of any usable amount of illicit drugs like cocaine or meth, or medications obtained without a valid prescription. What does a drug possession charge entail, and what should you know if you are facing these consequences?

What Constitutes Drug Possession?

For the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of a drug possession, they must demonstrate that:

  • The drug qualifies as a controlled substance.
  • The substance you possessed is illegal under state law, or is a medication you had without a legitimate doctor’s prescription.
  • You knowingly possessed the controlled substance.
  • The amount you had was usable, not merely residue.

Most people assume the drug must be somewhere on their person – such as in a pocket or purse – for law enforcement to charge them, which is legally known as actual possession. However, you could also be charged with constructive possession if you stored the substance somewhere you could readily access it, such as in your closet or your car’s glove compartment. Finally, you may face a joint possession charge if you and another person buy and share a controlled substance together.

Consequences of a Drug Possession Conviction

While the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014 reclassified many drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors, you could still face up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000 if prosecutors can prove actual, constructive or joint possession of a controlled substance in California. 

However, not everybody qualifies for these charges. For instance, under California’s three-strikes law, drug possession can result in a sentence of 25 years to life. Prop 47 also only applies to your case if you have not committed any other serious crimes, such as sexual assault or murder. Defendants who do not meet the criteria outlined in Proposition 47 can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the drug and the amount found in your possession. Some of these charges could lead to a lengthier jail sentence. 

Additionally, a criminal record related to drug possession in California could have extensive ramifications on other aspects of your life, including the following. 

  • Employment and housing: If a background check turns up a past drug possession charge, it could make it more challenging for you to find a job or rent an apartment.  
  • Immigration status: People living in the U.S. on a green card or visa might risk getting deported if they get convicted of any crime.
  • Custody cases: Having a drug conviction on your record may lead a judge to deny granting you custody of your children. 
  • Driver’s license suspension: The DMV can suspend your driver’s license for six months if you plead guilty to possession of any controlled substance.
  • College education: A drug possession charge could prevent you from receiving college financial aid, or delay your graduation.
  • Gun rights: Drug-related offenses can result in temporary or permanent restrictions to your ability to legally buy or own a gun

Orange County Drug Crime Lawyer

If you are facing a drug possession charge in California, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help you get your record cleared. For example, drug diversion programs offer an alternative to jail time for people who might otherwise face severe consequences. At the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower, we promise to treat your case with the utmost respect and get you results. Contact us today to learn more.

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