Californians can face criminal charges for possessing prescription drugs without a valid prescription from a physician, podiatrist, dentist or veterinarian under California Health and Safety Code 11350 HS. The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor conviction is one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
An all-time high in overdoses from prescription medications was reached in 2014 when fatalities surpassed deaths resulting from heroin and cocaine combined. This significant rise in the past decade has led many prosecutors to treat these cases as seriously as those involving illicit drugs.
The law and prescriptions
Many of these drugs, such as oxycodone and Vicodin, can be just as addictive as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Here are four facts related to prescriptions and the law:
- Types of crimes: Charges can result not only for possession but manufacturing and selling prescription drugs. In addition to drug users, doctors face criminal prosecution for over-prescribing either for profit or as a result of negligence.
- Penalties: If you possess medication prescribed for someone else or forge a prescription, you can face serious jail time. While misdemeanor charges often result from a first offense, felonies are prosecuted in certain situations. Employment, education and immigration consequences can result as well as firearms restrictions.
- Prescription meds and driving: California law makes it illegal to drive under the influence of drugs (DUID) regardless of whether you have a valid prescription. Statutes address the level of impairment and not whether the substance is legal.
- Buying drugs online: You must have a valid prescription to acquire and possess drugs regardless of where you purchase them. This goes for any drug listed under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.
Defending against prescription drug charges
Due to the potentially severe penalties and life-altering consequences, it is advisable to work with an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney, especially one who used to prosecute these cases. In many instances, charges and penalties can be reduced or dropped through defense strategies, including:
- You have a valid prescription for possessing the drug
- You didn’t actually possess the substance
- Police violated search and seizure protections
Knowledgeable attorneys can also help clients enroll in drug rehab or diversion programs to avoid jail time. Proposition 36 allows first-time offenders to undergo treatment as an alternative to jail. Remember, being charged doesn’t mean you are guilty. Your lawyer understands how these cases work and will aggressively defend your rights to help give you a fresh start.