In California, it is a crime to have a controlled substance. Under California Health and Safety Code 11350, a controlled substance could be an illegal drug like cocaine and heroin or medications obtained without a legal prescription. A conviction for possession of a controlled substance attracts severe legal penalties, including a jail sentence of up to one year for a misdemeanor and three years for a felony.

Regardless of the severity, a drug crime can ruin your life. In addition to spending a significant amount of time in jail, a conviction for the offense will remain on your record and make it challenging to obtain a job or a professional license.

If you face an arrest and charges for possession of a controlled substance, it would be wise to seek and retain the services of a skilled criminal defense attorney. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we understand the significant impact that a drug possession conviction could have on your life. Our group of content attorneys provides the legal guidance and representation that our clients need to battle drug possession charges in Anaheim, CA.

Overview of Health and Safety Code 11350

In California, it is illegal to have a controlled substance. The use of drugs can significantly impact people's lives and fuel criminal activity. For this reason, drug-related crimes are punished severely. Posse ion of a controlled substance is charged under Health and Safety Code 11350, and a conviction could attract severe consequences.

A controlled substance under this statute may be any drug whose possession or use is regulated by state or federal drug laws. While you may have a legal reason to carry around the drugs, the police could question you, and if your explanation is not satisfactory, you could face arrest and criminal charges.

Possession of a controlled substance is one of California's most commonly charged drug crimes. However, before you face a conviction for the offense, the prosecution must prove these elements of the crime:

You Possessed a Controlled Substance

The first thing that a prosecutor must prove when establishing your guilt for possession n of a controlled substance is that you were in possession of the drug. For most drug crimes, possession could either be actual or constructive. Actual possession means that the drugs were physically on you or within your reach.  On the other hand, Constructive possession means that you are in control of the drugs even when they are not in your custody. 

A controlled substance is any drug or chemical regulated by the government for this statute. A controlled substance could be either illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin. Also, this statute applies to prescription medication such as Xanax, valium, or ketamine when obtained without a prescription.

You did not have a Valid Prescription for the Drugs

Possession of a controlled substance applies to both hard drugs and prescription medication. If you face criminal charges under Health and Safety Code 11350 for possession of prescription medications, the prosecutor must prove that you did not have a valid prescription. A drug prescription can be written by a physician, dentist, or veterinarian.

You knew about the substance's Presence and Its Nature as a Controlled Substance.

You can only be guilty of drug possession if it is clear that you knew about the presence of the drug and you knew that the substance was illegal under California law. However, the prosecutor does not need to prove that you knew the specific type of drug found in your possession. This element helps protect defendants from drugs planted or accidentally left on their property in most cases.

You Possessed a Usable Amount of the Drug

A drug is in the proper amount if its quantity is enough to be helpful to the person. The prosecution must prove that the drugs in your possession we're in a usable amount. For this reason, it should be clear that the drug in question could bring effects to the user. Therefore, having small traces of a drug will not be enough to convict you for the offense.

You were in Possession of a Drug Analog

Under HS Code 11350, it is illegal to be in possession or control of a drug analog. A drug analog, in this case, could be a substance that has a similar structure to a controlled drug. Additionally. A substance that has an identical effect on your system as a controlled substance.

Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance

Possession of a controlled substance is one of California's most commonly prosecuted drug crimes. Unless you have a substantial amount of the drug in your possession, the offense is charged as a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction, in this case, will attract the following penalties:

  • A maximum jail sentence of up to one year
  • Fines that do not exceed $1,000
  • Informal probation

Some circumstances could compel a prosecutor to charge your drug possession crime as a felony, including:

  • Having a substantial amount of the drug 
  • Prior convictions for sex crimes, drug crimes, or other serious felonies
  • Substantial evidence that you intended to sell or distribute the drugs

As a felony, drug possession is punishable by:

  • A prison sentence of sixteen months to three years
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • Formal probation

Drug Diversion for Possession of a Controlled Substance

California has implemented various drug diversion programs as an alternative to dealing with drug addicts instead of sentencing them to jail time. Under Prop 36, first-time offenders facing charges for possession of a controlled substance could be eligible for the drug diversion program. A drug diversion program involves counseling, detox, and substance abuse education lasting two years.

Before you enter the diversion program. It would be best if you met the following eligibility criteria:

  • You face a conviction for a non-violent offense
  • Your crime is not a strike under the California Three Strikes law
  • It would be best if you did not have a prior conviction for a drug-related offense within a particular time
  • You should not have accepted the diversion program more than once in the past

Social Repercussions of a Drug Possession Conviction

Long after you have served your jail or prison sentence, a conviction for drug possession could significantly impact your life. Whether you face a felony or a misdemeanor conviction, a conviction for this offense will remain on your record. A criminal conviction is a public record in California. Therefore, anyone who carries a background check on you will find it. A drug-related conviction in your record could have the following impacts on your life:

  • Job search. Most employers carry out background checks on their potential employees. Most individuals are reluctant to associate with convicted criminals. Therefore, a conviction for drug possession could be used to deny you a job opportunity.
  • Renting an apartment. If a background check reveals a drug conviction, the landlord could be reluctant to rent you an apartment.
  • Immigration. Facing criminal charges as an immigrant could be detrimental to your ability to remain in the United States. If you are in the country on a Green card or visa, it could be revoked. Additionally, a felony conviction could result in deportation.
  • Custody. Drug possession in your record would do a lot of harm to your chances of winning child custody in California.
  • College financial aid. If you have a drug possession conviction on your record as a juvenile, the record will prevent you from receiving financial aid to pay for college or university.
  • Professional license. If you are in a profession such as nursing, law, medicine, or even dentistry, the professional licensing board will be notified of any convictions you suffer. If you face a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, your license could be suspended or revoked.

Defenses against Health and Safety Code 11350 Charges

Facing an arrest and charges for possession of a controlled substance is a nerve-wracking experience. However, not all changes will result in a conviction. There are several ways through which you can fight the allegations to avoid a conviction, including:

You had a Valid Prescription

Before a conviction for drug possession, the prosecution must prove that you possess the drugs without a valid prescription. You cannot be convicted under this statute if you can prove that you obtained the drugs legally with a written prescription by a physician, podiatrist, dentist, or veterinarian.

False Accusations

The police and prosecutors take allegations of drug possession very seriously. When a person reports you to the police, the authorities may arrest you and file charges even before reviewing the evidence. Many people understand the potential repercussions of a drug possession arrest, and a person with the mindset of jealousy, anger, or revenge may accuse you falsely. 

Some people may go even as far as fabricating evidence and witnesses to ensure that you are convicted for the offense. You can defend against the charges by arguing that you are a victim of false accusations. A skilled defense attorney, in this case, could be able to review the evidence and cross-examine witnesses to uncover the false accusations.

Lack of Knowledge

Your knowledge of the presence of the drug and its nature as a controlled substance is an essential part of proving your guilt under HS Code 11350. Proving your knowledge is not easy for the prosecutor. Therefore, your attorney can take advantage of these facts to fight the charges. If the court is convinced that you knew nothing about the presence or nature of the drugs, your drug possession charges could be dropped.

Claim that the Drugs Belong to Someone Else

You could be charged with possession as long as the drugs were in your control position. If the drugs are found in a common area where you are among the people in control, you can argue that the drugs belonged to another person.

Unlawful Search and seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects all citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In most cases, evidence of drug possession is obtained during an illegal search. Your attorney could help ensure that the evidence obtained during an illegal search is not against you in court by filing a motion to exclude evidence.

Lack of Sufficient Evidence

A conviction for drug possession requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you possessed or were in control of the illegal substance. Sometimes, the prosecution cannot produce the drugs for which you are charged with possession. Drugs could be exchanged or change ownership several times before a trial. The loss of these drugs may be advantageous for your case. Your attorney could argue that the drugs cannot be produced because they do not exist.

The Drugs were Planted.

Claiming that the drugs were planted is an alternative to arguing that you did not commit the crime you are accused of. Proving that the drugs and other pieces of evidence were planted can be very challenging, especially since the testimony from the arresting officer carries a lot of weight to the jurors. If you believe that the police planted the evidence, your attorney can file a motion to obtain the arresting officer's file. If there have been several complaints against a particular officer, the credibility of the evidence may be lowered.


While California law allows police officers to carry out sting operations when they suspect a case of drug possession or sale, illegal entrapment could occur when the police and their informants lure you into committing a crime you would never have committed without their insight. You can avoid a conviction under this statute if you can prove that you were arrested while transporting drugs coerced to transport.

Expunging a Conviction under Health and Safety Code 11350

If you face a conviction for drug possession, you may be able to expunge your conviction. An expungement is a legal procedure that diminishes or removes the effects of a criminal conviction. A conviction for possession of a controlled substance has significant consequences on your life. Therefore, expunging the conviction could go a long way for you.

If your expungement is approved, your criminal case will be reopened, and the guilty plea will be set aside. Under California PC 1203.4, an expungement will release you from all the disabilities associated with the crime.

The process of expunging your HS Code could be done in the following steps:

Obtain the Copies of your Criminal Record

The first step of expunging your conviction is recovering all the relevant information regarding your arrest and conviction. These records could be obtained from the court, attorney general, or probation officer.

Check your Eligibility

You will be entitled to expunge your conviction if you meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • You have completed your probation. You could be sentenced to probation, whether you face a misdemeanor or a felony conviction. Before you petition the court for an expungement, you must follow all the probation terms.
  • You are not currently facing criminal charges for another offense.
  • You are not serving a sentence. 
  • You did not serve time in state prison.
  • You have paid all the court fines imposed after a conviction for drug possession.
  • You were charged and convicted in state court and not federal court.

Understand the Status of your Probation

Completing your probation is a significant part of seeking an expungement in California. If you are still on probation for drug possession, you must have it terminated before filing a petition to expunge the conviction. Some of the factors that the court could consider when determining your eligibility for probation termination include:

  • The seriousness of your conviction
  • Your criminal history
  • Your ability to obtain meaningful employment after the termination

File a Petition

Expunging a drug-related conviction is not straightforward. You must file a petition with the court. The expungement hearing is held before a judge, taking ten minutes. If the judge accepts your petition, you can comfortably answer "no" when asked about criminal convictions. Additionally, an expunged conviction cannot be used to deny you a job or revoke your professional license.

Frequently Asked Questions on Possession of a Controlled Substance in California

Drug crimes are severely punished under California law. If you or a loved one faces charges for drug possession, you are likely to be feeling devastated and confused about the situation. The following are some frequently asked questions that could help you understand more about the crimes and how you can fight to avoid a conviction:

     1. Can a Juvenile be charged with drug possession?

It is not uncommon to find individuals under eighteen years possessing illegal drugs. However, California law assumes that minors are incapable of making well-informed decisions. For this reason, a minor who faces an arrest for possession of a controlled substance will have their case handled in the juvenile justice system. Unlike the criminal court, the juvenile justice system aims to rehabilitate minors and discourage them from committing crimes in the future.

Juvenile drug possession cases receive lighter sentences after a conviction. If your child is found in possession of a controlled substance, they may be allowed to go free with a simple warning, community service, or a juvenile rehabilitation program. While the penalties are not severe, a conviction for drug possession could significantly impact your child's life. Therefore, it is crucial to contact a criminal defense attorney to guide and represent them in the case.

     2. Am I guilty under Health and Safety Code 11350 if I did not intend to sell?

Under California law, possession and sale of a controlled substance are criminal offenses. Therefore, an intention to sell the drugs is not a necessary element for a possession conviction. The most critical factor in drug possession is whether or not you had actual possession and control of the drugs. The purpose for which you wanted to use the drugs is not relevant to securing a conviction.

     3. If I am convicted of possession of a controlled substance, do I have to spend time in jail?

  • A conviction for possession of a controlled substance attracts a jail sentence of up to three years. However, the hail sentence is not mandatory, and you may benefit from other alternatives such as:
  • Drug diversion program. California Penal Code 1000 allows the court to grant you rehabilitation for drug possession and abuse instead of spending time behind bars. If you are on good behavior and complete the diversion program, the court will dismiss your drug possession case.
  • Probation. Receiving a probation sentence is another way to avoid prison time after a conviction for possession of a controlled substance in California. Probation could either be formal or informal, depending on the nature of your charges. Formal probation for drug possession lasts for up to five years. While on probation, you may be required to follow some probation terms, failure to which the jail sentence could be reinstated.

     4. If the drugs are found in my car and not on me, can I be convicted under HS Code 11350?

YES. You do not need to hold the drugs to be charged with possession of a controlled substance. The element of possession that needs to be clear under this statute addresses both immediate and constructive possession. Constructive possession means that the drugs were in control over the drugs. Therefore, if the drugs were in your car, you can be convicted based on constructive possession.

     5. What should I do if I am arrested for possession of a controlled substance?

While possession of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor, there are times when the prosecutor could charge you with a felony. A conviction under HS Code 11350 attracts severe legal penalties and consequences that could have a long-lasting impact on your life. Therefore, it is vital to contact a skilled criminal defense attorney if you face this arrest offense. An attorney who has experience in defending drug-related charges will help you investigate the details of the case and build a defense against your charges.

Find a Competent Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

In California, possession of a controlled substance is a serious offense. The controlled substance could be an illegal drug like cocaine or a prescription medication obtained without a valid prescription for this statute. While drug possession is one of the most straightforward drug crimes, battling charges under Health and Safety Code 11350 could be devastating.

An arrest and conviction for drug possession could attract severe and long-lasting negative consequences on your life. Therefore, seeking the insight of a criminal defense attorney is vital. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we will provide the rigorous defense you need to fight the charges and avoid the harsh consequences under this statute. We serve clients battling drug-related criminal charges in Anaheim, CA. Contact us today at 714-766-0965 and allow us to guide you through the challenging legal process.