California criminal law on drug possession for sale and drawing a distinction between so called “simple possession” or possession of narcotics for personal use depends upon a lot of factors. CASE IN POINT:
A recent bust of a heroin sales where 12 million dollars of heroin was seized on route from California to New York is a classic example of a crime of possession for sale of a controlled substance in California (see: http://nypost.com/2014/10/01/drug-sting-nets-12m-worth-of-heroin-headed-for-nyc/). Such a case can either be charged as a federal crime or under California state law. In California, it is a felony to possess narcotics but such possession charges can be disposed of either by a reduction of charges or dismissal after a motion to suppress evidence or by a Diversion program depending on an accused criminal background. An arrest for possession of a controlled substance for sale in California will always be a felony and if convicted, a person can face time in a California State Prison. However, upon arrest for possession of a controlled substance for sale in California, there are often times defenses that a competent California criminal defense attorney can assert whether your criminal case is located in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside or any other county in Southern or Northern California.
Possession of a Controlled Substance for Sale in California (Evidence of Sales)
California Health & Safety Code section 11351 makes it a felony for any person who possesses a controlled substance for sale. More often than not, the main issue in defending a possession for sale case are the facts supporting a prosecutor’s argument of evidence of an intent to sell. Evidence that prosecutor’s rely on in proving an intent to sell include: 1. Possession of a large quantity of drug; 2. Possession of paraphernalia related to drug sales such as scales, small baggies, information included in phones or addresses books indicating drug clients, 3. Large quantities of money especially if it is possessed in small denominations and 4. Evidence of surveillance showing sales such as video showing a large amount of people coming and going from an apartment or home. There is obviously other evidence including in many instances an undercover officer buying drugs from a suspect which can be tougher to deal with in a criminal defense case.
Evidence of Possession
It may seem obvious that a person must possess the controlled substance in order to be convicted but possession is an element of the crime that a prosecutor still has to prove in order to obtain a conviction. Possession can either be actual, constructive or joint. Examples of actual possession is most often drugs found on a subject’s person such as in a pocket or even a purse or brief case being carried. In those cases, often times the prosecutor will not find a large quantity of drugs which makes it more difficult to prove an “intent” to sell. Constructive possession cases provide even more possible defense to criminal case. Constructive possession can occur most often where a person has access to a home, garage or even the trunk of a car where drugs are found. The person may not actually be physically possessing the drugs but they have direct access to the controlled substances. Such cases become more difficult to prove when multiple persons have access and thus potential “joint possession” of a controlled substance. I recently handled a case where drugs were found in a common area of a home and my client, with a prior drug conviction in his background, was the only person charged with possession of the drugs although 3 other people had access to the drugs. In such a case, it would be hard to prove that my client alone possessed the drugs but the prosecutors could have tried to charge everyone with “joint possession” if the evidence showed that all people had access to the area and could exert dominion and control equally over the controlled substances. In most cases, prosecutors will have additional evidence to prove who controlled the drugs at issue. Otherwise, an experienced criminal defense attorney can often times get such charges dismissed or reduced based on a lack of sufficient evidence.
Evidence of Knowledge
Even a person may be stopped in a car and drugs are found in their trunk or a person may be detained and evidence is found in their brief case or even in their garage, the State of California must still prove that the person had knowledge of the controlled substances. As such, in a criminal trial, a prosecutor will have to prove that a person possessed a controlled substance with knowledge that it was a controlled substance. In order to prove knowledge of a controlled substance a district attorney in California will have to show that a person knew that a drug is an unlawful controlled substance which is usually not difficult to prove when you are talking prosecutions for possession of heroin, cocaine or even crystal methamphetamine. In cases where knowledge is a defense there is usually a scenario where a friend, relative or even an unknown person leaves drugs in a person’s car or residence without the person’s knowledge. Such cases can lead to a dismissal or reduction of charges but when arrested in such a case, one should immediately consult with and/or retain a competent criminal defense drug lawyer who can immediately start an investigation into the matter so that witnesses or vital evidence is not lost.
Importance of Promptly Retaining a California Criminal Defense Attorney Upon Being Charged with Possession of Drugs for Sales or Distribution:
Being arrest for possession of a controlled substance or illegal drug in California no matter whether you are in Los Angeles County, San Bernardino or Riverside Counties or anywhere else in the Golden State can lead to serious consequences such as a felony conviction or state prison time. However, as discussed above, there are a lot of elements that a prosecutor needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction and an experienced L.A. criminal defense attorney can defend a case where it will be very difficult for a prosecutor to obtain a conviction which can lead to the settlement of a case by dismissal, reduction of charges or a significant reduction in a possible criminal sentence.