Prescription Drug Crimes


Prescription drug abuse and addiction has become an epidemic in the United States. While many states have pushed to address this concern through drug treatment programs rather than traditional criminal prosecution, convictions for crimes involving prescription drugs under California and Federal laws can carry serious consequences. If you are facing charges for a prescription drug crime, it is important that you seek the help of an experienced San Diego drug attorney. Working with a skilled prescription drug attorney gives you the best chance of avoiding a conviction and getting the treatment you need.

Common California Prescription Drug Offenses


California Health and Safety Code §11350 prohibits the possession of any usable amount of a controlled substance. This can include illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine, or prescription drugs such as Vicodin, that are not lawfully prescribed. Proposition 47, which was a ballot initiative that passed in November 2014, downgrades certain drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Those who qualify can be sentenced to up to a year in prison for a misdemeanor charge, though many may avoid jail time altogether if they are eligible for and successfully complete a drug diversion program.

For those who do not qualify under proposition 47, they will be charged and sentenced depending on the amount of the drug and prior convictions.

Possession For Sale

Health and Safety Code §11351 prohibits the possession of controlled substances for the purpose of selling them. While it is legal to possess lawfully prescribed drugs, it is illegal to sell them. If you intended to sell drugs illegally to another person, you can be charged with possession for sale — regardless of the amount of drugs — even if they were lawfully prescribed by a doctor. Possession for sale of narcotics is a felony charge and sentencing will depend on the amount of the drugs you possessed.

Sale or Transportation

Health and Safety Code §11352 prohibits the sale or transportation of controlled substances in California. This law is essentially aimed at individuals engaged in the trafficking of illegal narcotics, but the law does not require any kind of large scale operation to be charged with this offense. This means that you can be charged if you are engaged in illegally transporting, selling, administering, giving away, furnishing, or importing prescription drugs. The sale or transportation of a controlled substance is a felony offense and penalties can be increased in cases involving the transportation of drugs from one California county to another. You can also be charged with a federal crime if you are accused of transporting drugs across state lines.

Use of Prescription Drugs

Health and Safety Code §11550 makes it a misdemeanor to use or be under the influence of a controlled substance. This means that the use of prescription medications such as codeine, morphine, or hydrocodone, without a valid prescription from a doctor or not used in accordance with the prescription, can be the basis for a charge under this statute.

Prescription Drug Fraud

Health and Safety Code §11173 prohibits prescription fraud or what is known as “doctor shopping.” Individuals can be charged with this offense if they:

  • Obtain or attempt to obtain a prescribed controlled substance from a medical professional through either fraud, deceit, misrepresentation or the concealment of a material fact.
  • Make a false statement in a prescription, record, report, or order.
  • Falsely represent themselves to be or assume the title of a manufacturer, wholesaler, pharmacist, physician, dentist, veterinarian, registered nurse or physician’s assistant for the purpose of obtaining a controlled substance.
  • Affix a false or forged label to a package or receptacle containing controlled substances.

At the prosecutor’s discretion, this crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense.

Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs

Under California Vehicle Code §23152, it is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. You may be considered to be driving “under the influence” when the drugs and/or alcohol have impaired your ability to operate a motor vehicle in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious person would. This means that you can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of legally prescribed drugs. In other words, if the drug impaired your ability to drive the vehicle safely, it is irrelevant that those drugs were lawfully prescribed.

The criminal charge and punishments vary depending on whether it is your first or subsequent DUID offense. You may be able to get probation and/or community service in lieu of jail time for a first conviction, but if you have multiple DUIs or DUIDs, you will likely have to serve some jail time in addition to paying steep fines. Your license will also be suspended anywhere from 6 months to 3 years, depending on your criminal history.

Defenses to Prescription Drug Crimes

While the available defenses are contingent upon the specific circumstances of your case, some common defense strategies include:

  • Challenging the unlawful collection of evidence
  • Entrapment
  • That there was no probable cause for a traffic stop
  • That the arrest was not justified by reasonable suspicion
  • Police misconduct
  • Compromised test results
  • Constitutional violations such as not being read your Miranda rights upon arrest

Contact an Experienced San Diego Prescription Drug Attorney

In addition to possible jail time, a drug conviction can lead to a number of collateral consequences. You may face:

  • Significant fines
  • A permanent criminal record
  • Limited housing options
  • Revocation of or inability to obtain professional licenses or certifications
  • Being ineligible for financial aid for college

An experienced San Diego prescription drug attorney can develop a defense strategy that best suits your case and aggressively challenge the evidence collected against you to help you avoid a conviction.

Attorney Jessica McElfresh has experience on both sides of the criminal process, which gives her a unique perspective when it comes to crafting an effective defense strategy. She has a successful track record in drug cases and she will thoroughly review the facts of your case to determine the best course of action. She will listen to your side of the story and fight to obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

If you’re facing a drug charge, you likely have a number of questions about your case. Call us today at (858) 756-7107 to learn how we can help.