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Health and Safety Code 11377 – Possession of Methamphetamine

11377. (a) Except as authorized by law and as otherwise provided in subdivision (b) or Section 11375, or in Article 7 (commencing with Section 4211) of Chapter 9 of Division 2 of the Business and Professions Code, every person who possesses any controlled substance which is (1) classified in Schedule III, IV, or V, and which is not a narcotic drug, (2) specified in subdivision (d) of Section 11054,except paragraphs (13), (14), (15), and (20) of subdivision (d), (3) specified in paragraph (11) of subdivision (c) of Section 11056, (4) specified in paragraph (2) or (3) of subdivision (f) of Section 11054, or (5) specified in subdivision (d), (e), or (f) of Section 11055, unless upon the prescription of a physician, dentist, podiatrist, or veterinarian, licensed to practice in this state, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a period ofnot more than one year or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code. (b) (1) Any person who violates subdivision (a) by unlawfully possessing a controlled substance specified in subdivision (f) of Section 11056, and who has not previously been convicted of a violation involving a controlled substance specified in subdivision (f) of Section 11056, is guilty of a misdemeanor. (2) Any person who violates subdivision (a) by unlawfully possessing a controlled substance specified in subdivision (g) of Section 11056 is guilty of a misdemeanor. (3) Any person who violates subdivision (a) by unlawfully possessing a controlled substance specified in paragraph (7) or (8) of subdivision (d) of Section 11055 is guilty of a misdemeanor. (4) Any person who violates subdivision (a) by unlawfully possessing a controlled substance specified in paragraph (8) of subdivision (f) of Section 11057 is guilty of a misdemeanor. (c) In addition to any fine assessed under subdivision (b), the judge may assess a fine not to exceed seventy dollars ($70) againstany person who violates subdivision (a), with the proceeds of this fine to be used in accordance with Section 1463.23 of the Penal Code. The court shall, however, take into consideration the defendant's ability to pay, and no defendant shall be denied probation because of his or her inability to pay the fine permitted under this subdivision.

Under this section of the California Health and Safety Code, it is illegal to have methamphetamine in anywhere in your possession. This offense may be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the seriousness of the factual circumstances. In some cases it may be lawful to possess methamphetamine if it is prescribed by a licensed physician.

To convict a defendant under this law, there are several elements which must be proven by the prosecutor, including:

  1. The defendant illegally possessed a prohibited drug;
  2. The defendant was aware that the drug was present;
  3. The defendant had knowledge that the drug was an illegal controlled substance;
  4. That the controlled substance in question was in fact methamphetamine;
  5. The amount of drug possessed was sufficient for use as a narcotic.

Explanation of the Law:

  • First Element: A defendant will be liable for possessing a drug where he or she actually has the illegal substance on their person, or it is in a area where he/she can exert control over it. People v. Barnes (1997) 57 Cal.App.4th 552. Additionally, two or more people can be said to possess an illegal substance at the same time if they all have the right to exercise control over it. A defendant can also be said to be in possession of a drug if he has the right to exert dominion over the substance through another person, i.e. a defendant asks his friend to take care of his drug stash while he leaves to take care of some business.
  • Note: merely making an agreement to buy a controlled substance is not in itself possession because the person has not yet been given the opportunity to control the drug.
  • Element Three: The prosecution does not have to show knowledge on the defendant's part that the drug was methamphetamine. It is sufficient that the defendant knew it was an illegal substance regardless of its chemical properties or identity. People v. Horn (1960) 187 Cal.App.2d 68
  • Element Five: “Usable amount” means that there is enough of the drug to use for its intended purpose even if it is not enough to put someone under the influence. People v. Rubacalba (1993) 6 Cal.4th 62

Defenses:

  • Valid prescription: a defendant cannot be convicted of this crime if he or she has a prescription from a physician (or other medical professional) which is provided for a valid medical purpose. The prosecution must show that this is not the case in its case in chief, or an acquittal is required. See People v. Mower (2002) 28 Cal.4th 457. The definition of a valid prescription is found in Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11027, 11164, 11164.5. Furthermore, Health & Saf. Code, § 11150 describes those health care professionals who are allowed to write prescriptions.

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