Possessing illegal drugs in California may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony, which is a more serious charge with greater consequences. The prosecutor may file a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the type of drug involved, the circumstances of the crime and the defendant’s prior criminal record. California considers all of the above and other aggravating factors such as gang involvement or possession of weapons when it comes to felony charges.
If you have been charged with a felony drug crime and are convicted, you are highly likely to receive a prison sentence. Such a sentence could change the trajectory of your life and rewrite your future – not in a good way. The Southern California defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Randy Collins strive to protect your rights during the process and work to build a solid defense strategy to help you secure a positive outcome.
What Leads to Felony Drug Charges
In California, drugs are divided into categories called “Schedules.” Mostly, these groups are based on, or adopted in whole from the Federal Control Substances Act, which categorizes drugs by their recognized medical value balanced against its potential for addiction and abuse. California recognizes five schedules with Schedule I including the most dangerous drugs such as heroin and Schedule V, the least. In California, however, possession of marijuana for recreational use is legal. But, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Here are some of the factors that could result in a felony drug charge in California:
Type and amount of drug: The type of drug a person possesses and the quantity of drugs possessed can significantly influence the type of charges filed. For example, possessing a dangerous controlled substance such as heroin or cocaine could automatically result in a felony drug charge. In many situations, the quantity of the drug in the defendant’s possession will also result in a felony rather than a misdemeanor charge.
Possession for sale: Possessing drugs for personal use could result in a misdemeanor while possession for sale could result in a felony charge. The difference in punishment reflects lawmakers’ view of the harm caused by each crime. While a user harms only himself or herself, a person who sells the drugs to others harms many. In some cases, even possession of small amounts can be charged as a felony. If you are caught with illegal drugs, you are more likely to be charged with illegal drug possession with the intent to sell, which is a felony. If police seize large quantities of drugs, you may face drug trafficking charges, which result in felony charges and severe penalties including lengthy prison sentences.
Aggravating circumstances: Prosecutors in California also often charge defendants with felonies in cases where the violation involved one or more “aggravating circumstances” or factors. These usually reflect the circumstances in which the crime occurred. For example, under California law, drug crimes are punished far more harshly when they are committed within 1,000 feet of drug-free zones such as schools, playgrounds, colleges, youth centers, swimming pools and arcades. Federal law states that drug crimes committed in these zones are subject to twice the maximum punishment allowable under the law. Other aggravating factors include possession of a firearm, gang-related activity, and presence of a minor.
Consequences of a Felony Drug Charge
In California, the consequence of a felony drug conviction can be significant. There is the potential for a harsh prison sentence and hefty penalties. But the repercussions go beyond
the court-ordered sentence. If you are convicted of a felony crime, you stand to lose the rights afforded to you by the U.S. Constitution. In California, those convicted of a felony drug charge will lose their right to vote while they are still imprisoned or on parole for a felony. When you have served your sentence, your right vote will be automatically restored. However, you would have to register again to vote.
Those convicted of a felony drug charge also lose their right to serve on a California jury. While jury duty is largely viewed as an inconvenience, it is still a crucial part of our legal system. Felons also lose their right to serve in the military and in some cases, even veteran’s benefits. Worst of all, those convicted of felony crimes face discrimination when it comes to housing and employment. Even if your record has been expunged, you will need to disclose your conviction if you decide to run for office.
California also has some of the strongest gun laws in the country. So, if you are convicted of a felony, you will lose your right to possess a firearm. As a felon, your DNA will be taken and submitted to the state’s DNA database where it can be compared to DNA samples pulled from any crime investigation in the future.
If You Have Been Arrested
If you have been arrested on suspicion of a drug charge, there are several steps you can take in order to protect your rights. First, you have the right to remain silent. There are perfectly valid reasons why you would choose to remain silent when dealing with the police. Don’t allow them to intimidate you during questioning.
Make sure to call your Southern California drug crime defense attorney as soon as possible. Remember, anything you tell the authorities can and probably will be used against you. There is no such thing as friendly banter when you are speaking with a police officer before or after your drug arrest. It is best to remain silent until you have legal representation.
There are a number of legal defenses your attorney can present to fight a felony drug crime charge including illegal search and seizure. If the police obtained the drugs from your person or property without following proper procedures, that evidence can be thrown out and the charges, dismissed. If your Fourth Amendment rights were violated, it is highly likely that the charges will be dropped.
If you have been charged with a felony drug crime in Southern California, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Randy Collins to find out how we can help you fight these serious charges and help you get your life back.