Drug Charges

Drug  Charges

In California, drug crimes are some of the most widely prosecuted crimes on both the state and federal level. DCS Defense will aggressively defend individuals charged with possession, transportation, manufacturing, sales and being under the influence of drugs.  Drug charges are extremely serious, are usually prosecuted as felonies and come with a potential state prison commitment.  If you or someone you know has been arrested, charged or is being investigated for a drug crime, you should contact Damian Siwek, an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, at DCS Defense to schedule a no-cost confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.

California Drug Law

California has some of the most complex illegal drug and controlled substance laws in the country.  In California, a person can be charged for a variety of activities related to illegal drugs, including:

  • Possession (for personal use or sale)
  • Sales (including giving drugs to someone)
  • Transportation (or trafficking)
  • Cultivating or manufacturing
  • Attempt to possess, sell, manufacture or transport drugs
  • Under the Influence of Drugs.

“Controlled substances” include illegal drugs such as rock or crack cocaine, powder cocaine, heroin, ecstasy (X), methamphetamine or crystal meth.  They also include use of prescription drugs such as painkillers, (Oxycontin, Vicodin, Hydrocodone) or ADD drugs (Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Dexedrine).

How the crime is charged and punished depends on several factors, including the type and quantity of the drugs involved, whether the drugs were for personal use or for sale, and whether the defendant has a criminal record, especially prior drug convictions.  These factors affect whether the drug offense will be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, whether jail or prison is required, the length of incarceration, fine amounts, enhancements and eligibility for sentencing alternatives (Proposition 36, Deferred Entry of Judgment (“DEJ”) or Drug Court).

Possession of Drugs for Personal Use

California Health and Safety Code §11350 and §11377 make possession of a controlled substance (e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, opium, opiates, LSD, PCP, hashish) a felony, unless you have a legal written prescription.  Possession of marijuana is usually charged as a misdemeanor.  Possession of Marijuana (California Health and Safety Code Section 11357) is also charged as a felony unless the possession was less than an ounce of marijuana – then the charge is either a misdemeanor or an infraction.  Charges can also be filed for being under the influence of a controlled substance, driving under the influence of a drug (DUI), being present where a controlled substance is being used, and possessing drug paraphernalia for injecting or smoking controlled substances.  If you have been charged with possession of a controlled substance for personal use as a felony, you could be sentenced to up to three years in state prison.  Most people will be eligible for alternative sentencing (e.g., Prop 36 or drug diversion) and avoid jail completely.  Successful completion of the alternative sentencing programs can result in a dismissal of the case.

Possession of Drugs for Sale

California law makes a significant distinction between drug possession for personal use and drug possession for sale.  California Health and Safety Code sections 11351, 11351.5, 11378 and several other sections make it a felony to possess illegal drugs for the purpose of selling them.  The prosecution does not need to prove that you sold the drugs, but only that you had the intent to sell them.  Intent to sell can be proven with circumstantial evidence.  For example, if law enforcement goes to your house and finds drugs in quantities larger than would be normally expected for personal use, that would indicate there was intent to sell.  Other indicia of intent to sell drugs include packaging, gram scales, cutting agents, large amounts of cash, multiple cell phones, pay and owe sheets, and a fortified location (such as security bars on windows).  In Los Angeles, we have encountered many drug cases that are mistakenly charged as possession for sale when they are possession of drugs for personal use.  Possession of drugs for sale carries up to five years in state prison.  A conviction for possession of drugs for sale is a “priorable” offense meaning it will increase the penalties (usually by three years of state prison) for a future drug sales conviction.

Sales, Transportation & Furnishing of Drugs

California drug trafficking laws prohibit the transporting, importing (bringing drugs into California) or selling, furnishing, or giving away of controlled substances.  This drug offense is usually prosecuted as a felony under California’s Health and Safety Code Sections 11352 or 11379 and is punishable by up to five years in state prison.  You can also be charged with trafficking if you aided, abetted or conspired with someone to traffic drugs.  Trafficking charges are often filed as a result of a police sting operation, in which case an entrapment defense may be possible.

Manufacturing Drugs

Manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, deriving, or preparing by chemical extraction or independently by chemical synthesis or preparing drugs is a felony in California and is punishable under Health and Safety Code Section 11379.6 by up to seven years in state prison.  Cultivating or harvesting marijuana is prosecuted as a felony under Health and Safety Code Section 11358 and is punishable by up to three years in state prison.

Under the Influence of a Drug

Health and Safety Code Section 11550 makes it a misdemeanor to use or be under the influence of a controlled substance except when administered by a person licensed to dispense, prescribe or administer.  Under this same section it is also a misdemeanor to be unlawfully under the influence of a controlled substance while in the immediate personal possession of a loaded operable firearm.  A subsequent conviction with a prior is prosecuted as a felony.  Penalties for misdemeanor (Health and Safety Code Section 11550) is a minimum sentence of 90 days in county jail.  However, most offenders of this charge may qualify for Proposition 36 or DEJ (Deferred Entry of Judgment).

Sentencing Alternatives

We are strong believers and advocates for alternative sentencing for drug offenders, including drug rehabilitation and treatment programs.  In Los Angeles, depending on your specific circumstances you may be eligible for alternative sentencing such as Proposition 36 or Deferred Entry of Judgment (also known as DEJ or Diversion).  We have found these programs to be an effective alternative to county jail or state prison.

  • Proposition 36 – Prop 36
    The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, also known as “Prop 36,” allows individuals charged with first or second time non-violent, simple drug possession offenses to get substance abuse treatment as an alternative to incarceration.  A Proposition 36 sentence requires treatment for up to one year, with an additional six months of aftercare treatment.
  • Deferred Entry of Judgment – DEJ
    For a Deferred Entry of Judgment, the defendant must enter a guilty plea to the drug charge; but he or she is not convicted.  For 18 months, the case is put on hold while the defendant takes drug education classes and shows he or she can avoid being arrested or convicted of another crime.  If the defendant succeeds, the charges are not entered on the defendant’s criminal record and the drug charge is dismissed.


One of the most crucial defenses in drug cases centers on the initial arrest and the seizure of the drugs.  Was the search by law enforcement conducted properly without violating your constitutional rights?  Did law enforcement have reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop, and if so, was there probable cause for the search of the car or the person that resulted in the seizure of the drugs?  Did law enforcement have the legal right to search your home or wiretap your phones?  Was the confidential informant (CI) a reliable source of information?  Illegal searches and seizures happen sometimes in drug cases and any evidence illegally obtained, usually cannot be used.  Suppression of the illegally obtained evidence often leads to dismissal of the charges.

Los Angeles Drug Attorney

If you or someone you know is facing drug charges, call us to discuss your legal situation.  We have defended many clients in Southern California facing criminal charges ranging from simple possession, to sales and manufacturing of drugs.  The criminal justice system is stacked against you.  We can help you, call us for a free one-on-one confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.

For aggressive and effective representation against criminal drug charges, including a free confidential consultation, contact Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Damian Siwek at DCS Defense.