For those facing drug-related charges in California, the differences between the charges and their resulting penalties can be confusing. Some drugs carry relatively light penalties while others can carry serious jail time and a hefty fine. To further complicate matters, a drug offense that is a misdemeanor for one person may be a felony for another, depending on the particular circumstances of the case and criminal history of the accused. Although consulting an experienced California criminal defense attorney is the best way to know what possible penalties you may be facing, below are some general guidelines for offenses under California’s drug laws.
California’s 4 types of drug offenses
Generally, in California there are 4 types of drug offenses:
- Possession of an illegal substance
- Manufacturing of an illegal substance
- Transportation or distribution
- Sale or intent to sell
In California, the penalty for drug-related offenses varies depending on the type of illegal substance and the quantity in question, as well as whether you transported, distributed, manufactured, sold, or intended to sell the drug to others. Simple possession for personal use is usually charged as a misdemeanor and generally allows for alternatives to jail time, such as drug diversion programs, unless the defendant has a criminal history of serious felonies.
How methamphetamine charges are treated differently in California
Some drugs are more dangerous than others and, as such, carry heavier penalties. Methamphetamine, for example, is not only dangerous for the user; the manufacture of methamphetamine is highly dangerous and often occurs inside home-based meth labs
Methamphetamine’s dangers, for example, extend beyond those to the user to include the community at large. The manufacture of methamphetamine usually occurs in home-based meth labs using common household chemicals that can explode or cause fires when mixed incorrectly. In addition to the risk of fire and physical injury to others, manufacturing methamphetamine also releases toxic chemicals into the environment. For these reasons, California lawmakers have enacted strict penalties for those charged with the possession, use, transport, and manufacture of methamphetamine within the state.
Possession of methamphetamine
The possession of methamphetamine is prohibited by Health and Safety Code 11377. To be found guilty of possession under the statute, you must have:
- Possess methamphetamine
- Have knowledge that you possess methamphetamine
- Have knowledge that you possess a controlled substance
- Possess a usable amount of the drug
There are three types of possession under California law:
- Actual possession: the substance was on your person
- Constructive possession: you exercised control over the location of the substance
- Joint possession: you shared either actual possession or constructive possession with one or more people
If convicted of possession of methamphetamine in violation of Health and Safety Code 11377, the charge is usually a misdemeanor that can carry up to a one-year sentence in county jail and a $1,000 fine. However, certain prior convictions—such as murder, sex crimes, and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, to name a few—can cause the possession of methamphetamine to be charged as a felony, increasing the penalty to up to three years in jail.
Possession for sale and manufacturing methamphetamine
Health and Safety Code 11378 prohibits the possession of methamphetamine for sale and carries harsher penalties than simple possession. Individuals convicted under this section could face up to three years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine. To determine whether the methamphetamine possession was intended for sale, the court can consider a number of factors including the quantity of the drug, the way it was packaged, statements you made to another indicating the methamphetamine was for sale, and the presence of drug paraphernalia at the time of arrest.
The manufacture of methamphetamine in what is commonly known as meth labs, carries the severest penalties. Under Health and Safety Code 11379.6, it is a felony punishable by up to a seven-year jail sentence and a $50,000 fine to manufacture, compound, produce, derive or process methamphetamine.
Protect your rights with a California criminal defense lawyer
Being arrested for methamphetamine-related charges, however, does not mean that you are without legal defenses. Available defenses range from having a valid prescription to unlawful search and seizure; the appropriate defense for you will depend upon the unique circumstances of your case.
If you’re a California resident who is facing a methamphetamine or other drug-related charge, an experienced California criminal defense attorney can possibly help get your charge reduced to a lighter offense, negotiate an alternative to jail time such as a drug diversion program, or protect you from an unfair conviction.