When you think of drug sales or transportation, you may think of the kind of large-scale trafficking operation you’d see in a movie, with drugs being smuggled in secret compartments of a car or truck to avoid detection by law enforcement. However, in California, you can be charged with transporting drugs for an action as simple as walking across the street while carrying a controlled substance in your backpack or pocket.
A charge of transporting or selling drugs shouldn’t be taken lightly. You may have heard that personal possession of a controlled substance is a minor infraction, but a charge of transporting or sale of a controlled substance is much more serious. If you’ve been charged, you face felony penalties if you’re convicted, and that may include months or years in jail and significant fines. You also face a permanent record as a criminal drug offender that could affect your ability to get a good job or find a place to live. A felony drug conviction also may affect other parts of your life, such as your immigration status if you’re not a U.S. citizen, or your ability to get financial aid for college.
If you want to try to avoid some of the serious, potentially lifelong consequences of a conviction for drug sales or transportation, you need an experienced San Diego drug crimes lawyer by your side in court. A good defense lawyer will thoroughly examine all of the evidence in your case, listen to your side of the story, and work to craft a defense strategy that’s designed to get you the best possible outcome. That may include negotiating a reduction in your charge, working to convince a prosecutor or judge to agree to let you undergo drug treatment as a sentencing alternative, or taking your case to trial and trying to convince a jury to acquit you.
Defining Transportation or Selling of Controlled Substances
Under California Health & Safety Code §11352, it’s a crime in California to do any of the following with a controlled substance when the underlying intent is to sell the drug:
- Give to someone
- Offer to transport, import, sell, furnish, or give to someone
In essence, the law is aimed at people engaged in illegal drug trafficking and transactions — moving drugs from place to place by foot, bicycle, or vehicle for the purpose of trafficking; importing illicit drugs from another state or country; selling illegal drugs; supplying drugs to someone to be sold; administering drugs to someone, such as injecting them with heroin; or giving away samples of an illicit drug. Again, you don’t necessarily have to be involved in some large-scale operation to get charged. Even small-scale transactions — such as giving a few pills to a friend to sell — may lead to a felony prosecution.
Further, you can be charged with drug sales or transportation not only for trafficking in street drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, PCP or ecstasy, but also for illegally dealing in commonly abused prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Valium, Xanax, or Ocycontin. Transporting or selling any controlled substance could result in your being charged under HSC §11352.
Penalties for Selling or Transporting Drugs
The sale or transporting of controlled substances is a felony offense in California. HSC §11352 sets the basic penalty for conviction at three, four, or five years in prison. However, if you transport the drugs from one California county to another non-contiguous county, such as from San Diego County to Santa Clara County in the Bay area, the penalties are more harsh and can include three, six, or nine years in prison. Transporting drugs across state lines is a federal crime and is likely to be prosecuted by federal authorities in a federal court. A San Diego drug defense lawyer with federal criminal experience can walk you through these charges.
Other Consequences of a Drug Sales or Transportation Conviction
A conviction for drug sales or transportation can have many long-term negative effects on your life. Those may include:
- Felony Record — If you’re convicted of selling or transporting drugs, you’ll have a permanent felony record as a drug offender. Once you complete your sentence, you’ll likely find that having a history that includes a felony drug conviction means potential employers are reluctant to hire you and landlords may not want to rent to you. If you need a security clearance for work, you may not be able to get approved for a security clearance with a felony drug conviction in your past.
- Professional Licenses — If you work in a profession that requires a license from a state board — such as a license to practice law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, optometry, or another type of license — a felony drug conviction may have an effect on your license and result in suspension or revocation, depending on the board’s policies and the circumstances of your conviction.
- Immigration — If you are not an American citizen, a felony drug conviction likely will mean a denial of your application for an immigration visa, green card, or citizenship. If you have a visa or green card, a conviction for selling or transporting drugs can result in your visa or residency permit being revoked, and you may be deported to your home country.
- College — If you’re a college student or want to get a college degree, a felony drug conviction can affect your ability to get federally backed financial aid, such as student loans or grants. You may have to disclose the conviction on your college or graduate school application, and the school may choose to deny you admittance.
- Child Custody — A felony drug conviction can be cause for a family court to award custody of your children to another person, or for your children to be placed in foster care while you’re serving your sentence for selling or transporting drugs. You may face an uphill battle regaining custody of your children when you get out of prison.
- Gun Ownership — When convicted of a felony offense, you’re banned from owning a gun for at least 10 years.
Defending a Drug Sales or Transportation Charge
When you’re charged with transporting or selling drugs, in order to convict you a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you:
- Transported, imported, sold, furnished, administered or gave away
- A controlled substance
- You knew the drug was a controlled substance
- There was a sufficient quantity of the substance to use as a drug
- Your actions were related to an intent to sell the drug
HSC §11352(c) specifically defines transportation as “transportation for sale,” hence the requirement to prove intent to sell. Along with evidence that shows you transported the drug, the prosecutor will need some evidence that demonstrates an intent to sell — such as the presence of scales or materials that could be used to package the drug for sale. If the prosecutor doesn’t have that type of evidence, or the connection to a possible intent to sell the drug is weak, then your defense lawyer may be able to argue that reasonable doubt exists.
Some other possible strategies that a San Diego drug defense lawyer may use include:
- Arguing that you didn’t know you were transporting a controlled substance
- Arguing that you weren’t carrying enough of the drug to be used as a controlled substance
- Showing that you had a valid prescription for the drug
- Arguing that evidence obtained was obtained against you through an illegal search or seizure
- Challenging the use of a confidential informant who gave evidence against you
How your attorney approaches your defense will always depend on the individual and unique circumstances of your charge. Most lawyers offer a free consultation to discuss the options available in your case.