Navigating the current battlefield in the “war on drugs” can be a dangerous exercise for even the most prudent of American citizens. Many new and potentially invasive techniques used by law enforcement to investigate drug crimes, coupled with an overly zealous prosecution and mandatory minimum sentences, can negatively impact accused clients and disrupt their defense strategies.
Furthermore, the seriousness and penalties for convictions of drug crimes in San Diego can vary widely. Every day, clients enter the criminal justice system who are facing felony and misdemeanor charges involving crack cocaine, methamphetamines (crystal meth), prescription drugs, heroin, ecstasy (MDMA), and many other controlled substances. Your case can become even more complicated if the charges involve first-time or repeat offenders, federal drug charges, or the addition of a DUI or weapons charge. The consequences for conviction of a drug crime in San Diego can also vary widely and range from dismissal of the case entirely to entry into a treatment program and can escalate all the way to a severe prison sentence. This is why it’s important to engage an aggressive and knowledgeable attorney who can start negotiations with the prosecution immediately in order to help minimize or eliminate the consequences of criminal charges related to drug crimes in San Diego.
Understanding the Charges
While the prosecutor will explain when you are charged what crimes you are being accused of committing, only a knowledgeable San Diego drug attorney versed in the legalities and arguments of drug crimes can help you understand how your situation is unique. Drug crime charges in San Diego can take a wide variety of forms including:
- Drug Possession: Here we’re primarily discussing two criminal codes, which are Health and Safety 11350, which makes it illegal to possess narcotics such as cocaine, crack, and heroin as well as prescription drugs such as Vicodin or Codein without a valid prescription. Health and Safety Code 11377 criminalizes the possession of methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth. These charges can be classified in many different ways including infractions, misdemeanors, felonies or “wobblers,” meaning crimes that may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
- Possession with Intent to Sell: Under Health and Safety Code 11351, it is illegal to possess narcotics with the intent to sell the controlled substances, while Health and Safety Code 11378 makes it illegal to possess other illegal drugs such as methamphetamine. These offenses are charged as felonies and carry more severe penalties than simple possession. However, there are certain provisions the prosecution must meet, meaning they must prove not only possession of the controlled substances but also that the person accused of the drug crime knew of its presence, had knowledge that the controlled substance was illegal, possessed enough of the illegal drug to sell it for consumption, and intended to sell it.
- Drug Trafficking or Distribution: It is a felony in California not only to sell, supply, administer or give away narcotics but also to transport or import drugs into the state. Many charges in this category are the result of undercover police operations or surveillance operations in high-crime neighborhoods. Transportation charges do not require personal possession, meaning if the police stop an individual and drugs are found in the vehicle or on another person, trafficking or distribution charges can be applied.
- Drug Manufacturing: Health and Safety Code 11379.6 makes it a felony offense to manufacture, convert, produce, derive, process or prepare a controlled substance by chemical extraction or chemical synthesis—a common example would be operating a methamphetamine production facility (meth lab). Maximum sentences in this category can approach up to seven years in prison and a $50,000 fine, so having an aggressive drug crimes defense is essential if you have been accused under this category.
Common Drug Crimes Defenses Employed in San Diego
There are a wide variety of techniques and legal concepts that can be utilized to defend a person accused of a drug crime in San Diego. Because San Diego is a large metropolitan area close to the southern borders of the United States, drug crime convictions are common and law enforcement authorities and prosecutors can be aggressive in pursuing charges. That’s why it’s important to engage a knowledgeable, uncompromising attorney in pursuing your drug crime defense. Here are some of the common strategies employed by San Diego attorneys in mounting a defense for drug crimes:
- Crime Lab Analysis: In pursuing a drug crime case in San Diego, prosecutors must prove that a confiscated substance is really the illegal drugs that it claims it is by sending the controlled substances to a crime lab for analysis. The crime lab personnel must testify at trial in order for the prosecution to make its case. If the substance is not really a controlled substance, or if the crime lab makes a major error, or the crime lab analyst does not appear at trial, the prosecution’s case may be severely disrupted or even dropped.
- Planted Drugs: This defense can be difficult to mount because a law enforcement officer’s courtroom testimony carries a lot of weight with most judges. Furthermore, members of a tight-knit police unit may be averse to blowing the whistle on a fellow police officer. However, your attorney can file a motion that requires the police department to release the complaint file of the arresting officer. This file contains the identities and contact information for others who made complaints against the officer, who can then be interviewed by your attorney or a hired investigator.
- Missing Drugs: A competent attorney will take steps to ensure that prosecutors are able to produce the actual drugs involved in the case. Similar to the need for testimony from the crime lab analysis, prosecutors who lose or cannot produce the actual drugs involved in the drug crime can have their case dismissed. Confiscated substances often get transferred several times before arriving in the evidence locker, so your attorney should not assume that the evidence still exists during trial.
- Entrapment: While it is technically legal for law enforcement to set up sting operations, entrapment in a drug crime case in San Diego is a different proposition. Entrapment occurs when the officer or paid informants induce a drug crime suspect into committing a crime that he or she might not have otherwise committed. As a general rule, entrapment is a high risk for prosecutors when the state provides the drugs in question.
Attempting to mount your own defense if you have been charged with drug possession is a pointless exercise and a fruitless endeavor. If you’ve been charged with possession of a controlled substance, intent to sell or even trafficking, there are a number of arguments that an experienced San Diego drug crimes attorney may employ to fight the charge or charges.
Each case is unique, and a good San Diego marijuana attorney can review the facts and evidence in your situation, hear your side of the story, and discuss whether any of these defenses or completion of treatment might be an option for you. Jessica McElfresh is an experienced San Diego drug lawyer who has represented numerous clients accused of drug crimes in the area, and she can make sure your rights under California and San Diego laws are protected. Call (858) 756-7107 today for a free consultation to learn how to get started.