the State Bar of California
the San Diego Union-Tribune
The Press-Enterprise

Simple Possession of a Controlled Substance

Simple possession of any usable quantity of a controlled substance is still a criminal offense in California, albeit a misdemeanor in most cases, due to the passage of Proposition 47. As a misdemeanor, possession of a controlled substance is punishable by a maximum of one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000, plus court costs. It is important to note that despite the passage of Proposition 47, there still exist some very specific circumstances in which simple possession of a controlled substance can be filed as a felony by the prosecuting agency. This is generally limited to situations where an individual has been previously convicted of a sex offense requiring registration pursuant to Penal Code section 290, or where someone has been previously convicted of a serious felony offense as defined and enumerated in Penal Code section 1192.7, subdivision (c). Drug possession may also be charged as a felony in situations where the accused is in possession of a loaded firearm in conjunction with a controlled substance. As a felony, possession of a controlled substance can carry a maximum possible punishment of up to three years in state prison in some instances.

In California, “controlled substances” are broadly defined and categorized according to six “schedules”, and includes substances such as methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. It also includes other prescription painkillers, such as codeine, oxycodone, and morphine. Most simple possession of controlled substance cases are generally prosecuted as violations of Health and Safety section 11350, subdivision (a), whereas simple possession of methamphetamine is generally prosecuted under Health and Safety Code section 11377, subdivision (a).

You may think that in order to be convicted of possession of a controlled substance, the police must catch you “red-handed” – meaning that they must catch you with the drugs on your person. This is untrue. In fact, there are generally three different theories under which a person may be convicted of possessing a controlled substance: (1) actual possession; (2) constructive possession; and (3) joint possession.

“Actual possession,” as previously eluded to, refers to situations where the drugs are found on your person - such as in your hands, or in a pants or coat pocket – typically during a law enforcement search. “Constructive possession” refers to situations where you were not physically holding the drugs anywhere on your person at the time you were contacted by law enforcement, but the drugs were located in close proximity to you and in a place that was easily accessible by you at the time, such that the drugs are deemed to be “within your control.” One example of constructive possession would be in a case where you are stopped by the police while driving and the officer finds drugs under your car seat on within close reach in the center console of the vehicle. Finally, the theory of “joint possession” comes into play in situations where drugs are found in a space that is owned, shared, or occupied by more than one person and all individuals are deemed to be in constructive possession of the area where the drugs were located.

At first blush, the consequences for suffering a misdemeanor conviction and the penalties associated with a simple drug possession may sound trivial but do underestimate the widespread implications that this type of conviction could have in your life and for your future! In today’s world, it is common for employers to run background checks on individuals who work for them, and those they are considering hiring. As such, even a misdemeanor criminal conviction could impact your ability to maintain your current employment and your ability to obtain more lucrative employment opportunities in the future. A misdemeanor criminal conviction for a drug-related offense may also negatively impact applications for college financial aid, your rental application to secure housing arrangements, and could also have detrimental immigration consequences in certain cases as well.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may have other options and defenses available to you. It is important to remember that the passage of Proposition 47 has heavily shifted the focus of drug-related crimes toward treatment and rehabilitation, and away from incarceration as a form of punishment. As such, you may even be eligible for drug diversion pursuant to Penal Code section 1000. Essentially, drug diversion involves weekly classes, random drug screening and/or testing, and required attendance and Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings in lieu of custody time or other forms of criminal punishment. If you are eligible to participate in the program, successfully complete it, and adhere to the other requirements set forth by the court, your case will eventually be dismissed in as little as eighteen months in most cases.

If you have already been charged, or anticipate being charged, with possession of a controlled substance, or any other drug related offense in the Murrieta area, contact the Law Office of Julie Ann Baldwin, APC now for your free, confidential case consultation now. Your future and your freedom deserve to be taken seriously by an experienced attorney who is committed to quality representation and compassionate advocacy, every step of the way.

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