Can You Beat a Drug Charge in California?

Revised: November 21, 2023

Drug-related charges can lead to jail time, the loss of your job, the loss of your home, and the loss of your relationships. Rebuilding a career, finding housing, and restoring your reputation after drug charges can be an uphill battle. In order to avoid these consequences, you need excellent representation on your side.  

As California drug lawyers we often receive questions that teach us there are many misperceptions about how drug charges play out. 

This post will give you some insight into how a defense lawyer can help if you are facing drug charges.

What are the most common drug charges?

The most common drug charges we see in our Roseville office are:

• Possession of drugs
• Possession of paraphernalia
• Possession for sale
• Transportation of drugs

Any one of these charges can lead to jail time, probation, the loss of a job, the loss of housing, and the loss of valuable constitutional rights. 

First offense misdemeanor possession

Believe it or not, many of the cases we deal with are first-offense misdemeanor drug crimes, and misdemeanor drug crimes, in general, are one of the most common crimes charged by the District Attorney’s Office in Roseville. 

Penalties for a misdemeanor possession charge include up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

It is very important to be careful if the drug in question was meth. Under California Health and Safety Code 11377, even the personal use of a small quantity of crystal meth can be charged as a felony if you have prior convictions for a sex crime, a serious offense such as murder, or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Is a possession charge a misdemeanor?

It depends. A simple possession of a controlled substance charge is generally a misdemeanor in California.

However, if the defendant is registered on the sex offender registry, or if they have previously been convicted of a serious felony, then they can be charged with felony possession.

In most cases, simple possession for personal use is charged as a misdemeanor.

Can you go to jail for possession of drugs?

Here in California, you absolutely can. Even a misdemeanor charge can mean up to one year in jail. That one year is more than enough to damage most people’s lives. In many cases, there are additional options that your attorney can explore on your behalf.

What is a usable amount of drugs?

Here’s what’s meant by the usable quantity rule in illegal drug possession cases. The quantity must be sufficient to cause a narcotic effect but not so much that it might indicate a desire to sell the drug or a pattern of habitual use. A single full dose of any drug would be enough to qualify as a “usable” amount.

Do first time misdemeanor offenders go to jail?

It depends.

A police officer may decide to arrest a first-time misdemeanor offender at the scene of the offense. Or, the officer may instead decide to issue a citation instead of making an arrest. 

Most people charged with misdemeanor drug possession do not go to jail as first offenders and are typically eligible for diversion. However, some people reject diversion or fail out of diversion. Those people have higher odds of doing jail time. In some cases, they would be eligible for alternative sentencing such as a work project or home detention, instead.

Can misdemeanor drug charges be dropped?

Yes! Any case may be dismissed by the District Attorney’s office. 

Charges may be dropped for any of the following reasons:

• Insufficient evidence
• In the interests of justice
• For successful completion of a drug diversion program
• If we successfully prove that your constitutional rights were violated during the search.

Our attorneys have been successful at having drug charges dropped.

What is a felony drug charge in California?

There are a variety of felony drug charges one could face. Generally speaking, a felony drug charge in California consists of a crime that carries a maximum sentence of more than one year either in jail or in prison. Felony drug charges can be filed in California state court or in federal court. 

The felony charges cover the sales, transportation, and importation of controlled substances, as well as possession of controlled substances with a clear intent to sell them.. 

State felony violations can include 16 months or two to three years in jail. Federal drug crimes can come with mandatory minimums and harsher sentences depending on the specific charge.

Note that possession of marijuana in limited amounts is legal under California law. However, possession of marijuana for personal use is a federal misdemeanor. The sale and cultivation of marijuana are also considered federal felonies. 

The Cohen Defense Group handles California drug cases. Our office has experienced felony drug attorneys who will provide a free consultation on felony drug offenses.

Can felony drug charges be dropped?

It is hard to get felony drug charges dropped, but any charges can be dropped or reduced under the right circumstances and with the help of the right lawyer. Ask us how we can help you fight a felony drug charge.

How is drug possession proven?

The prosecution must prove four facts to prove that you are guilty of drug possession.

• You possessed the drug.
• You knew you possessed the drug.
• You knew what you had was a controlled substance; and
• There was enough of the drug to be used as a drug—they cannot prosecute you on the basis of useless traces or drug residue. 

This does not mean that your drug case will be straightforward. It is important to discuss these four points with an experienced drug attorney. If the prosecution cannot prove all of these elements, then your drug case is defensible.  This could mean the DA drops the drug charges, or it could mean your drug case is dismissed at trial.

How serious is a drug paraphernalia charge?

Drug paraphernalia covers any device, instrument, or paraphernalia used for unlawfully injecting or smoking a controlled substance. A common example of drug paraphernalia is a methamphetamine pipe.

Is a drug paraphernalia charge a misdemeanor or a felony?

A drug paraphernalia charge is not a felony. Illegal possession of drug paraphernalia is in violation of Health & Safety Code 11364 and is a misdemeanor in the state of California. 

Nevertheless, the charge can be serious. The maximum penalty for possession of drug paraphernalia in California is six months in the county jail.

Can paraphernalia charges be dropped?

Yes. The case may be dismissed by the District Attorney’s office. 

Charges may be dropped for a variety of reasons. Our attorneys have been successful at having drug paraphernalia charges dropped. Often that is accomplished by arguing that a person’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated.

I successfully defended a paraphernalia charge in Roseville by demanding a suppression hearing and arguing that the police violated my client’s constitutional rights by searching her purse. She was not on probation, there was no warrant, and there was no legal justification to search her purse. The evidence that she possessed paraphernalia was thrown out by the judge, and the district attorney dropped the charge. This led to a full dismissal of the case.

Is it illegal to have drugs in your system?

Under California’s Health and Safety Code 11550, it is illegal to be under the influence of a controlled substance. You could face a misdemeanor conviction with up to one year in county jail.

What is deferred entry of judgment?

Deferred Entry of Judgment is a program wherein a person pleads guilty to an offense. The court will then continue the case for a specified period of time. The person then has the opportunity to complete specific conditions during that time period. If you successfully complete the conditions, the case is dismissed.

Recently, the Cohen Defense Group had a case in Roseville where the client received a deferred entry of judgment. The client pled guilty to petty theft. The case was continued for three months. The client had to follow all the laws. She was successful, and the case was then dismissed. This allowed our client to keep her job, and to avoid jail time.

Deferred Entry of Judgment is often an option in drug cases, and it is an option we will pursue for you whenever possible.

What is a drug diversion program in California?

California Penal Code section 1000 (P.C. 1000) covers California Drug Diversion Laws. The P.C. 1000 pretrial diversion program for drug crimes is a diversion program for drug crimes involving simple possession. You do not need to plead guilty to enter P.C. 1000. 

The judge will give you between one year and 18 months to complete the program.

If you successfully complete PC 1000 drug diversion, the charges are dismissed. Our office has drug offense attorneys who can discuss the eligibility criteria for P.C. 1000, and who may be able to help you obtain a dismissal.

There are other types of diversion in California: mental health diversion and military diversion.

How long do the police have to file drug charges?

It depends.

Generally speaking, the statute of limitations for most misdemeanors is one year. 
Call us at 530-823-7700  or 916-596-2700; we can help you evaluate whether the statute of limitations has passed in your specific case.

Can you help me beat a drug charge in California?

There are multiple ways an attorney can defend a drug case and obtain a dismissal of the charges. 

Our attorneys have defended drug cases by:

• Showing the police violated our client’s constitutional rights to obtain evidence, thus ensuring that evidence is thrown out.
• Successfully demonstrating that there is insufficient evidence to pursue the case. 
• Successfully attacking the reliability of police informants. 
• Proving the drug belonged to someone else, and our client did not know the drug was there.
• Proving our client did not know the drug was a controlled substance.
• Proving our client held a valid prescription for the drug and possessed an amount consistent with the prescription’s purpose.

What are the most important drug case defenses?

Often, the best way to attack a drug prosecution is based on law enforcement violating our client’s constitutional rights. We take a close look at the actions the police took that led to the discovery of the drugs or the drug paraphernalia.

Under the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, you have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The 4th Amendment is complex and, thanks to various Supreme Court cases, is an ever-evolving area of the law.

The Cohen Defense Group has attorneys who are experienced in this area of the law. If the police violated your rights by unlawfully searching you or your property, or by unlawfully seizing you or your property, then you may have a basis to argue that your rights were violated. We can then bring forth a motion to suppress the evidence. If the motion is granted, the evidence is often thrown out and the case is often dismissed. Don’t try to guess whether unlawful police activity took place—call us today at 530-823-7700  or 916-596-2700 so we can analyze it for you. 

We also attack the reliability of various informants. Police sometimes use informants to locate drugs, paraphernalia, and to identify drug dealers. 

Informants are people who provide information about suspected criminal activity to law enforcement. There are multiple ways that an informant may be involved. We’ve seen citizen informants, confidential informants, and jailhouse informants. Any of these informants can give the police the ammunition they need to pursue a search warrant, and any one of them can provide testimony in a legal proceeding.

Fortunately, we can often attack the reliability of these informants. However, the law surrounding informants is complicated. It is important to work with a skilled attorney who can properly advise you on these issues. The Cohen Defense Group can help you defend drug possession charges. Contact us to get help today.

Need help with a drug charge?

Drug laws change often. It’s important to work closely with a skilled attorney who is familiar with drug laws. Our office has experienced drug attorneys who can help you defend your drug charge.

Contact us to get help with your drug case today. We help clients in Roseville, Rocklin, Auburn, and the surrounding areas, and we will be pleased to help you, too.

See also:

6 Cohen Defense Group Lawyers Recognized as Top Lawyers in Sacramento Magazine and as Northern California Super Lawyers and Rising Stars 

About Danielle Nygren

Danielle Nygren HeadshotDanielle Nygren handles felony, misdemeanor, and domestic violence cases. Danielle is a passionate advocate for her clients and works diligently to obtain positive outcomes.