One of the most popular drugs in the world, cocaine is an alkaloid obtained from the Coca plant native to the South American Andes. Cocaine has a stimulant effect when snorted or smoked, and is referred to under several street names such as coke, blow, yeyo, or crack. Cocaine was legal for recreational use until banned under federal law in 1922. Its use in medical contexts is rare and heavily restricted.
Under the federal Controlled Substance Act (21 U.S.C. 841), cocaine is listed as a schedule II substance, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and addiction while retaining some useful medical use under strict settings. Cocaine base, on the other hand, is considered a schedule I substance, with no accepted medical uses. There is an ongoing legal dispute over the exact definition of “cocaine base,” but in the context of federal prosecutions, the term refers to crack cocaine.
The Penalties for Federal Cocaine Possession Charges
In the vast majority of cases, cocaine possession charges are brought under state law, but it is not unheard of for someone to get charged for cocaine possession by the federal authorities. The penalties for cocaine possession are outlined by the Controlled Substance Act, which provides the following:
- For first offenders, the penalty may be imprisonment for up to a year along with a fine between $1,000 and $100,000.
- A second offense will involve a sentence between 15 days and 2 years and/or fines between $2,500 and $250,000.
- A third conviction will result in a prison term between 90 days and 3 years and possible fines between $5,000 and $250,000.
There are separate penalties for the possession of crack cocaine under federal law, which involve a prison sentence of between 5 and 20 years and /or fines of up to $250,000 when:
- A first offender has more than 5 grams
- A second offender has over 3 grams
- A third offender has more than 1 gram
Usually, people face federal drug charges when they’re accused of drug trafficking. The penalties for trafficking between 500 and 4,999 grams of cocaine mixture or 28 to 279 grams of crack cocaine are:
- Between 5 to 40 years in prison for a first offense. The fines may reach $5 million for individuals and $25 million for organizations. The prison sentence increases to the 20 year to life range when there is evidence that serious injuries or death resulted from the trafficking activities.
- Second offenders may face a sentence between 10 years and life. As for fines, they may reach $8 million for people acting alone and $50 million for organizations. An automatic life sentence applies to people convicted of trafficking activities that resulted in the loss of life or serious injuries.
When the case involves 5,000 grams or more of cocaine, or in excess of 280 grams of crack, the penalties are as follows:
- First offenders may receive between 10 years to life in prison, and the minimum sentence increases to 20 years for cases involving death or serious injury. For people acting alone, the fines may reach $10 million, and the fines for organizations may reach $50 million.
- Second offenders will face sentences between 20 years and life, with an automatic life sentence when the case involves death or serious injury. The fines may reach $20 million for individuals and $75 million for organizations.
In addition to the fines and prison sentences mentioned above, the authorities have the right to confiscate any property such as land or vehicles that were allegedly involved in the trafficking activities.
The Penalties for Possession of Cocaine under California Law
California Health and Safety Code 11350 HS prohibits the possession of controlled substances such as cocaine. Violating this statute is a felony involving a prison sentence between 16 months and 3 years along with a possible fine of up to $20,000.
If the authorities have evidence that you intended to sell or distribute the cocaine, you may face charges under California Health and Safety Code 11351 HS, which provides a punishment of 2 to 4 years in prison and a maximum fine of $20,000. For cocaine base, the prison sentence may increase to 5 years. And when the amount of cocaine exceeds one kilogram, a judge can add 3 to 25 years to your sentence and the fines can reach up to $8,000,000.
For cases involving the sale of cocaine, charges will be brought under Health and Safety Code 11352 HS, which prohibits the transport and sale of cocaine. The penalty is 3 to 5 years imprisonment, which may increase to 9 years if there’s evidence that you crossed more than two county lines with the product. If you transported more than one kilogram of cocaine, you may face an additional sentence of 3 to 25 years and extra fines of up to $8,000,000.
Defending Against your Cocaine Possession Charges
If you’re facing cocaine possession or trafficking charges, a skilled San Diego drug crimes lawyer can help. He or she may be able to apply one or more of the following defenses to your case:
- Filing a motion to suppress the prosecution’s evidence if it was obtained from a search, arrest, or traffic stop that violated your 4th amendment rights
- Claiming that the authorities entrapped you, meaning that you committed the crime only because the police coerced you
- Showing that the police committed any other unethical or illegal acts in investigating or arrested you
- Arguing that the prosecution did not prove every element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt
If a conviction is unavoidable, your lawyer may be able to obtain a good plea bargain after negotiating with the prosecutor. And at your sentencing hearing, it may be possible to obtain lowered penalties if mitigating factors apply to your case. If you get convicted of possession under state law, you may avoid serving jail time by attending a substance abuse program.
San Diego drug defense attorney Jessica McElfresh has significant experience defending the rights of people accused of possessing or distributing controlled substances. She can put her experience to work for you and help you obtain the best case outcome possible. To learn more about how she can defend your case, call McElfresh Law today at (858) 756-7107 for a free and confidential consultation.