Methamphetamine or Meth Charges
In California, methamphetamine is a controlled substance. Also known as crystal meth, crank, ice, or speed, “meth” is an illegal drug to purchase without a prescription and meth charges can result from possession of a controlled substance.
Most of the crystal sold on the street in California has not been manufactured as a prescription drug. It has usually been made in a clandestine laboratory somewhere in the United States, Mexico, or occasionally in some other country.
Before November 4, 2014, possession of methamphetamine was classified as a wobbler. That means a prosecutor had discretion to charge the crime as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Proposition 47 changed California law so that possessing meth (and possession of most other illicit drugs) can only be charged as a misdemeanor.
Meth Charges: 11377 HS Conviction
Possessing meth without a valid prescription violates California Health and Safety Code section 11377. To obtain a conviction, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused:
- unlawfully possessed a substance containing methamphetamine;
- knew of its presence;
- knew that was a controlled substance; and
- possessed a usable amount.
A few other drugs are covered by CA HS 11377 but possession of methamphetamine is the offense usually charged under that law. The possession of many other drugs is covered by California Health and Safety Code section 11350. Except for the identity of the drugs to which the laws apply, the two laws are virtually identical.
Methamphetamine can be legally possessed with a valid prescription although it is not a drug that is commonly prescribed. 11377 a HS California only criminalizes the unlawful possession of it. Unless you have a valid prescription for methamphetamine, possessing it is almost always unlawful.
The crystal does not need to be pure. In fact, most meth sold on the street is not pure. If the drug has been cut or mixed with any other substance, possessing it still violates the law.
The phrase “knew of its presence” protects people who possess a drug unknowingly. If someone left meth in your vehicle and you did not know it was there, you did not possess the drug in violation of section 11377.
If you possessed crystal and did not realize that the substance you possessed was a controlled substance (a drug that is regulated by law and listed on a controlled substance schedule), you did not violate section 11377. On the other hand, if you knew you were possessing a controlled substance but mistakenly believed it was something else, your possession still violates section 11377. For example, you would be violating section 11377 if you possessed crystal in the mistaken belief that it was cocaine.
The requirement that possession must be of a “usable amount” protects you from prosecution if you only have trace amounts of the drug. “Usable” does not mean “enough to get you high” but it does mean “enough to use.”
The requirement that the substance be “usable” provides you with a defense under other circumstances. If you are found with residue from the manufacturing process that tests positive for the drug but the residue cannot actually be used as a drug, your lawyer may be able to convince a jury that you did not possess a usable amount of the substance.
WHAT IS “POSSESSION”?
Section 11377 applies to simple possession. Possession for sale is a different crime. That offense was not affected by Proposition 47.
Section 11377 is meant to criminalize possession for personal use, although the government is not required to prove that you intended to use it. It is enough to prove that you possessed it.
You can possess a drug in three different ways. How you allegedly possessed the substance may affect the defenses that are available in your case.
Actual possession means that you either had methamphetamine on your person or that you exercised direct physical control of it. For instance, if you place meth in the trunk of your car, you are in actual possession of it.
Constructive possession means that you had the right to control the crystal even if it was not in your physical possession. For example, if you gave meth to someone else to hold for you and you were entitled to ask that person to return it, you constructively possessed it.
Joint possession means that methamphetamine was possessed by two or more people at the same time. For example, if you and your friends purchased meth together and you intended to share it, you jointly possessed the drug.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR POSSESSION?
Before Proposition 47 passed, a conviction of section 11377 could result in a prison sentence if the prosecutor charged the crime as a felony. Under the law as it now exists, the possession of crystal is almost always a misdemeanor offense. The maximum possible sentence is one year in jail.
The possession of methamphetamine is still a felony for a small group of offenders. They include defendants who have prior convictions for violent offenses and defendants who are required to register as sex offenders. For everyone else, simple possession is now a misdemeanor.
Sentencing options can help you avoid jail
Proposition 47 gives individuals accused of possessing crystal more options for resolving their cases. If you are charged with possessing methamphetamine, you may be eligible for Drug Court or some other drug diversion program. Proposition 47 recognizes that people who possess the drug for their own use probably have a drug problem that is more effectively addressed by treatment than by incarceration.
Drug diversion programs are not only an alternative to jail or probation, they can help some offenders avoid a conviction. Diversion programs usually involve educational classes, treatment, or both. If you are allowed to enter drug diversion before sentencing and you are able to provide proof of program completion, the charges will be dismissed.
Why you should try to avoid a conviction
A drug conviction carries the potential for additional consequences. A conviction for methamphetamine possession can make it more difficult to obtain certain jobs, to enlist in the military, or to apply for professional licenses and permits.
Proposition 47 made an important change in the law but that change does not mean that a drug charge should not be taken seriously. You should always contact an attorney to find out whether a conviction can be avoided in your case.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE DEFENSES TO THE CHARGE?
I use a number of different strategies and defenses on behalf of clients charged with possessing crystal. Most of the time, drug diversion is the best alternative. In cases where diversion is not available or when my client wants to contest the charge, I might raise any of the following defenses:
- You had a valid prescription for methamphetamine (or the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not have a prescription).
- The substance was planted in your house or car by someone with a grudge against you.
- The substance was left in your house or car by someone else and you did not know it was there.
- Someone handed you a substance and you did not know it was a controlled substance.
- The witness who claimed the drug belonged to you is lying to protect himself or someone else.
- You tried to buy methamphetamine but the sale was never completed.
- You were near some people who possessed methamphetamine but you had no right to use or control it.
- The alleged crystal was not methamphetamine or any other controlled substance.
- You did not possess a usable amount of the drug.
- Whether or not you possessed meth, the police obtained evidence by means of an illegal search or seizure. The evidence therefore cannot be used to prove your guilt.
I will raise these defenses and others in an appropriate case to help you avoid a conviction or to put you in a better position to bargain for a reasonable outcome. Although methamphetamine possession is now a misdemeanor, it is still a serious crime to have on your record.
If you are charged or suspected of possessing meth, you should talk to a lawyer about your options. Mr. Ronald Ziff is happy to review your case and give you a free evaluation that will explain those options in clear terms. Contact the office today to obtain a free consultation .