What is the Penalty for First-Time Drug Offenses in California?
The charges for a first-time drug offense depend on the crime’s severity, which can be classified as a felony or a misdemeanor. Drug possession offenses in California apply if you have an illegal controlled substance on your person, car, home, or a place that you have access to or control over.
Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers explain that while the possession of marijuana is legal in the state, you can only carry the maximum amount stipulated in the Adult Use of Marijuana Use Act. Having too much marijuana in your possession or cultivating more plants than the legal limit is illegal, and the penalties can include hefty fines or jail time, depending on various factors.
What Factors Do Courts Consider When Punishing First-Time Drug Offenders?
Factors that courts evaluate when imposing penalties for drug crimes are:
- Whether you’re charged with simple possession
- Why you had possession of the drug
- The type of drug involved
- Whether the crime involved acts or threats of violence
- If you’re facing charges for “possession for sale.”
- The amount of the substance you had in your possession
- Whether you have a past criminal record
- It helps to retain skilled lawyers to defend you when facing drug charges.
How Severe Are Drug Crime Charges in California?
Drug possession charges are less severe than other drug offenses, such as distribution. For the prosecutor to prove the charges, they have to show beyond reasonable doubt that:
- You were aware that you had the drug
- You knew, or there are reasonable circumstances that prove you should have known the substance was illegal.
However, you won’t be charged if you have a medical prescription for the controlled substance. Skilled drug crime attorneys in Los Angeles can use various defense strategies to defend you by casting doubt on the prosecutor’s claims.
Is There a Mandatory Jail Sentence for First-Time Drug Offenders?
Whether a first-time offender is sentenced to imprisonment depends on various factors, one being whether the crime is a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime, with most drug crimes charged as misdemeanors due to reformed criminal laws in California. A felony is a more grievous offense, which could be violent or non-violent.
Both misdemeanor and felony drug offenses can be punishable by imprisonment for six months to 3 years or a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000. However, you can be able to avoid incarceration with the help of experienced Los Angeles drug crime lawyers.
Mitigating Factors in Drug Crime Charges
Prosecutors often argue based on aggravating factors that could worsen your charges to earn you the maximum punishment possible. On the other hand, criminal defense attorneys look for mitigating factors so that you have your penalties reduced. Some crucial factors that may make imprisonment less likely if you’re facing first-time charges are:
- Having a small amount
- Having no criminal history
- Possessing a less serious drug, which is not a Schedule I or II drug
- No intent to sell
- No aggravating factors, such as violence, were involved in the crime
Judges could grace you with leniency if your drug crime attorneys in Los Angeles argue for a lighter sentence. For example, they could argue that you deserve a more forgiving plea bargain if you don’t have a past criminal record.
What is the First-Time Offender Felony Charge Act in California?
Under the Federal First-Offender Act (FFOA), you could be eligible for a special probation program instead of incarceration. As someone without a prior criminal history, your lawyer can bring forth mitigating factors to argue or leniency in the sentencing to give you a fresh start. If you’re sentenced to probation, you must meet specific court-ordered conditions, so you shouldn’t take the sentencing lightly. Examples are:
- Attending counseling
- Paying the required fees
- Holding down a job
- Undergoing periodic random drug tests
- Not violating any other law during the probation period
Once you complete the felony probation successfully, the court may expunge the charge and the arrest. Violating the court-ordered conditions may put you at risk of additional consequences, including being sent to jail.
What is the Drug Diversion Program?
California also has a drug diversion program for first-time offenders. Also known as a drug court, it admits first-time offenders who meet the following criteria:
- The charges involve simple possession and not selling or distributing drugs
- The offense doesn’t involve violence or threatened violence
The drug diversion program aims to alleviate the burden of the growing prison population by rehabilitating offenders instead of incarcerating them. If the court approves you for the diversion program, you must agree to appear to a judge in a drug court to discuss your case instead of a regular court.
You also must spend up to 15 months in a treatment program and agree to random drug tests. The charges will be dropped once you complete treatment. Failure to meet these conditions could result in jail time. Your drug crimes attorneys in Los Angeles can provide legal guidance so you know what’s expected of you and how to ensure you comply with the program’s requirements.
A Skilled Drug Crimes Lawyer Providing Legal Counsel for First-Time Drug Offenses
Being a first-time drug offender can be scary, especially because you may not know the outcome of the case. You risk being imprisoned and fined heavily depending on the case circumstances. However, you can hire aggressive criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles to help you plead a lighter sentence if convicted.
The court could find you eligible for the drug diversion or probation program, with less harsh consequences than incarceration. The drug crimes lawyers at Miranda Rights Law Firm can help you fight for the most favorable case outcome if you face drug charges. Call us at 213-293-1207 to schedule a FREE case assessment.