Drug possession charges often attract severe repercussions for the accused parties, especially when the presiding judge finds the defendant guilty. You could face misdemeanor or felony penalties that could impact your everyday life. One of the consequences for guilty parties is imprisonment.
You want to work with a skilled criminal defense lawyer to build a strong defense and increase your chances of a favorable case outcome. With Foos Gavin Law Firm, you have the chance to work with a skilled and well-trained team of defense attorneys. Over the years, we have helped hundreds of clients in Sacramento, California, avoid criminal sentences for opiate possession charges. Consulting us is the first step towards a smooth trial process, with better chances of a positive outcome.
What Opiate Possession Charges Entail
Once a law enforcement officer arrests you, they should explain the nature of your charges to help you prepare for the upcoming trial. The information you receive will also help your attorney work on your case, so you must understand what the charges entail.
Opiate possession is a criminal offense under the provisions of section 11350 of the Health and Safety Code, attracting a misdemeanor charge. Therefore, an arresting officer will be mandated to arrest you if they find you possessing any drug classified as a controlled substance in California.
In determining whether your possession is valid, the arresting officer should ask whether you have a prescription note for the drug. This is because some controlled substances qualify as drugs for medical use, so patients under prescription should not face arrest. However, failure to produce the necessary documents will result in your arrest.
After your detention, the prosecutor assigned to your case will study the details to establish whether the case circumstances attract a charge. Upon verifying the police reports and finding that you have a case to answer, the prosecutor enters a misdemeanor charge.
Thus, you need to contact your attorney immediately to discuss handling the matter. This includes the type of defenses applicable in the case and whether you will accept any deal from the prosecutor.
Elements of Crime the Prosecutor Must Prove
Once your matter proceeds to the trial stage, the prosecutor must present arguments showing your guilt in the charge. Usually, the law places the burden of proof in criminal cases on the prosecutor, and the standard of proof should be to establish your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Notably, this is a high standard to operate on, so you can expect the prosecutor to consolidate evidence against you. They will also collaborate with the investigation officers working on your case to source relevant information.
The prosecutor must satisfy all elements of the crime for the presiding judge or jury to find you guilty of the offense. If they fail to do so, you are more likely to receive an acquittal or a significantly lower sentence.
The elements of the crime for the prosecutor to prove in an opiate charge are:
You Possessed an Opiate
Possessing an opiate is the primary factor to prove, as it ties into the charges you face in general. Usually, possession does not necessarily mean having an item on your body. Instead, possession entails exercising control over an item, regardless of whether you have it close to you.
Therefore, the prosecutor must show that the controlled substance was within your control by storing it in a hidden place or having another person hold it for you. Based on this, possession may also include two or more parties exercising control over the controlled substances. Hence, drug-related offenses often have two or more parties charged jointly.
Police reports detailing your arrest will be the primary documents that the prosecutor relies on upon, as they will indicate where the officers seized the opiates. Thus, the prosecutor can build on your case by justifying possession, depending on the drug recovery location.
You Lacked a Prescription Document for Your Opiate Possession
Secondly, the prosecutor should show that your arrest was warranted because you lacked a medical prescription to justify your opiate possession. Proving this element is essential for the prosecutor because a lack of sufficient evidence can result in your acquittal. This would be because you may have had the prescription note but did not have the chance to present it during your arrest.
For example, if law enforcement officers apprehended you outside your home, where you store your medical documents, you will have missed a chance to prove your valid possession. Hence, the prosecutor is responsible for ensuring that their evidence does not leave any doubt concerning your possession of an opiate prescription document.
You Were Aware that You Had the Controlled Substance
Moreover, the prosecutor should prove that you also knew of your possession and that it was not planted on you. To do this, the prosecutor will often rely on circumstantial evidence showing your knowledge and understanding of the item in your possession.
This is because knowledge can be an abstract concept that requires analysis of your actions. For example, if you took considerable efforts to conceal the drug before law enforcement officers recovered it, the prosecutor may build on this fact to show that you were aware of your possession.
Additionally, if you showed any resistance to a search despite police officers showing their search warrant, it may be sufficient to prove your knowledge of possessing an illegal substance. The prosecutor’s argument may focus on showing that; if you did not possess the opiate, you had no reason to resist a search.
You Understood the Nature of the Opiate as a Controlled Substance
The prosecutor must also establish that you were aware of potentially breaking the law by having a controlled substance without the correct authorization. This shows that you were willing to break the law by possessing the opiate, contrary to the Health and Safety Code provisions.
When presenting their case, the prosecutor should show that you were aware that the substance in your possession could cause significant alterations to your central nervous system. They should also prove that you were aware other controlled substances produced a similar effect, making it highly likely that you understood the type of substance in your possession.
Further, the prosecutor may provide additional information to show that you knew the substance you possessed encompassed chemical compositions similar to other controlled substances. If successful, the prosecutor may convince the judge to find you guilty.
The Opiate Amount was Sufficient For Usage
Finally, the prosecutor should prove that the opiate substance was enough to use. However, they do not necessarily need to show that the drug was enough to intoxicate you based on its volume.
This is important to establish because the minimum requirement is that the opiate drugs seized from your possession were usable by a human being, meaning you had the drug in a moderately high quantity.
An amount sufficient to cause intoxication indirectly points to an intention to use or sell the drug, meaning that the prosecutor may lean onto this implied fact. Although the prosecutor does not need to prove the probability of intoxication after using the drug, they may present the opiate seized from you and measurement records to establish that it is enough to cause intoxication.
Furthermore, the prosecutor may rely on verified scientific facts to corroborate details regarding how much of the drug is enough to cause intoxication. These include reports from medical professionals or other researchers involved in drug compositions.
Defenses Applicable for an Opiate Possession Charge
After the prosecution team closes their case, your criminal defense attorney will present your counterarguments in a defense hearing. Often, the judge schedules the defense hearing on a different date to give you sufficient preparation time. Thus, you want to meet with your attorney to ensure you have a clear vision of what to expect.
Your defenses should focus on the issues raised during the prosecutor’s trial session to ensure your arguments are relevant. You should also note that not all defenses will work in your favor, and you should only rely on those that provide insight into your case and cast reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s presentation.
Applicable defenses to consider for your case include:
You Were Not Aware of Possessing Any Drugs
One of the essential elements for the prosecutor to prove is that you knew of the opiates you possessed. Knowledge of drug possession goes hand in hand with proving that you had criminal intent, so denying this fact will cast reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s case.
Ideally, you want to deny knowing drug possession and support it with evidentiary sources for increased credibility. For example, your argument may be that the drugs were planted on you, meaning that you didn't expect to possess them. If so, you want to prove that you had not handled drugs before, nor were you aware of any arrangement to receive and possess them.
Presenting witnesses to provide testimony evidence is beneficial, as the parties you call on will corroborate your statements. Additionally, your attorney can attack the prosecutor’s statements and look for inconsistencies in their accusations.
You Possessed the Drugs Against Your Will
Additionally, some accused parties will have been in possession of opiates against their will, especially if they face forceful drug trafficking. This is common where a drug gang coerces you to transport drugs as a mule, especially if you appear young or innocent.
Upon presenting your position, you want to go further and provide evidence of your coerced circumstances. For example, you can provide evidential sources that show the types of threats you received.
These could be text messages, audio recordings, or video footage of the persons who coerced you by issuing threats. Moreover, you may need to disclose their identity, especially if you struck a deal with the prosecutor.
You Did Not Possess Any Opiates
Some cases may involve mistakes of fact, whereby the arresting officers strongly believe they have controlled substances. In reality, their perception may be wrong, resulting in an unwarranted arrest and trial.
Therefore, if you strongly believe your arrest was wrongful because you did not possess any opiates, you should raise this defense immediately. You can then request the exhibits of the judge to authorize testing of the seized material to establish that it is not an opiate drug.
This is because some substances may resemble what law enforcement officers perceive as drugs, but it may not necessarily be true. You should note that although the defense is applicable, you will have to await the judge’s discretion on authorizing further tests on the seized substances.
However, if the judge is convinced that the substance's nature is an opiate, the prosecutor’s case may deny your request. They may rely on expert evidence to decide, giving you a lower chance of disputing the facts and conclusion. Thus, your criminal defense attorney should work to ensure that the urgency to prove your case convinces the judge.
You Faced Police Misconduct
Unfair practices from law enforcement officers are also not uncommon, especially if the officers have colluded with third parties to cause trouble for you. Therefore, you may raise the unfair experiences you underwent as a defense to show that the prosecutor’s case stemmed from unfair justice procedures.
Typically, police misconduct accusations encompass plating evidence on you to warrant arrest, especially in areas other than your body within your control. These include your car, house, storage area, or unworn clothes. Hence, if the arresting officers headed directly towards the targeted area, and you genuinely did not handle drugs, you can report a case of police misconduct.
Similarly, misconduct may entail forcing you to confess to the charges. You should note that even if you are guilty of the charged crime, an officer should not force you to admit it. Doing so would be contrary to the rules of a fair trial, as the prosecutor would heavily rely on your confession. Alternatively, some officers may force you to admit to an offense you did not commit, bearing the same consequences.
Before applying this defense, you want to verify your sources and sufficient evidence to support your case. Without the additional proof, you may deal with repercussions for accusing a law enforcement officer of misconduct wrongfully. Your criminal defense attorney should therefore help you source the necessary proof.
You Possessed the Drugs Under a Lawful Prescription
Further, not all opiate drugs are entirely illegal, as some are useful for medical purposes. Nevertheless, you must provide proof of a valid medical prescription to warrant an acquittal after arrest. Without the requisite document, the judge or jury perceives the defense as an excuse to avoid legal repercussions.
Therefore, you want to present a signed original prescription document from your doctor or a registered pharmacist. Moreover, the documents should show the specific dosages or amounts you will use during the prescription period for more clarification in court.
Without a valid document, you can request the medical professional who wrote your prescription to appear in court and testify on your behalf. Presenting them as witnesses will be highly advantageous, as their professional status builds your credibility.
Penalties for Opiate Possession
Although your criminal defense attorney may provide strong defenses and counterarguments for your defense, the prosecutor’s case may convince the judge of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, you will face penalties for the offense based on the nature of your case.
The judge will schedule a sentencing hearing where you will have a chance to present a mitigating statement to request leniency. Afterward, the judge reads the punishment to follow the court’s determination.
Notably, opiate possession is a wobbler crime, which attracts both misdemeanor and felony charges. Therefore, the prosecutor exercises discretion to enter a reasonable charge for your case. They will often study case reports from the arresting and investigating officers to establish whether your case included any aggravating factors.
As a result, you may face misdemeanor or felony penalties, depending on the charge you initially faced. As a misdemeanor, the offense attracts a county jail sentence of up to one year or mandatory fine orders of up to $1000.
Conversely, a felony charge will attract a jail sentence lasting up to three years in county jail. Accused persons are more likely to face felony charges and penalties if they have a previous criminal record involving a serious felony. Additionally, parties with past sex crime charges may also face felony charges based on the severity of their past offense.
On top of jail time and fine payments, you may also risk losing access to the United States if you are not a citizen by birth. Some parties face deportations and receive an inadmissible status. As a result, you become eligible to enter the country in future instances unless you receive express authorization from a senior officer.
Additionally, the judge may choose an alternative sentence like the drug diversion program. This option is available for offenders whose cases did not involve violence. Hence, arrest for opiate possession only makes you a suitable candidate for the diversion program. This can be advantageous, as you will receive medical care and assistance with drug addiction that you may be in serious need of.
For example, the drug diversion program provides rehabilitative sessions, where you will work with experienced healthcare professionals to break your drug dependence. Furthermore, you may join a group therapy program to address your drug use issues.
The judge issuing your drug diversion orders will make a follow-up on your case by communicating with involved professionals and stakeholders. Hence, you want to maintain a consistent streak towards recovery, to have the judge close your case sooner.
Apart from opiate possession, the prosecutor may charge you with related crimes, depending on the circumstances of your case. This is because possession often builds up to additional offenses, and the prosecutor has the liberty to record multiple charges for each arrested person. Even where the prosecutor fails to charge you with additional offenses, you should be aware of their nature to avoid involving yourself in unlawful activities in the future.
Common offenses related to opiate possession include:
Being Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance
Since the law prohibits using controlled substances in general, you will face legal repercussions if found under the influence of an opiate drug. The mandating law is section 11550 of the Health and Safety Code, which imposes a criminal sanction on guilty parties.
Possessing a Controlled Substance to Sell
Additionally, you will face arrest and trial if officers find you possessing controlled substances to sell them. This is because section 11351 of the Health and Safety Code prohibits sales and distribution of drugs, as it extends the spread of controlled substances in the market.
Transporting and Selling Controlled Substances
Similarly, the law prohibits the transportation or sale of controlled drugs under Section 11352 of the Health and Safety Code. Anyone found in the process of transacting or distributing the substances is liable to face felony or misdemeanor penalties, depending on whether the judge finds them guilty.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
You should act fast and retain a criminal defense attorney when you face arrest and detention pending trial for opiate possession. Having a lawyer work on your case from the onset gives you a better chance to build a strong case against the prosecution. In doing so, you will also have a more promising chance of securing a positive outcome, where the judge may order your acquittal or a significant sentence reduction.
Choosing a criminal defense attorney requires traits like reliability and expertise because your lawyer should help you build your case by raising plausible counterarguments. At Foos Gavin Law Firm, we dedicate our services to helping any client facing opiate possession charges in Sacramento, California. Our skilled team will personalize your case to ensure all circumstances influence the course of the trial. For more information on defending an opiate possession charge, contact us today at 916-779-3500.