California Cocaine Law
Cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug by criminal justice authorities, which puts it in the same category as heroin, morphine, other opiates, methamphetamine and methadone. An arrest for simple possession of a small amount of cocaine is a felony, but the court has the option of sentencing you to up to one year in jail or sending you to a probation program that includes a drug rehabilitation element of up to one year. Under the state’s Proposition 36 first time drug offenders charged with possession are often sentenced to probation, subject to a variety of qualifications such as random drug testing and employment.
Possession of Cocaine for Sale
Federal penalties for cocaine possession are much more stringent and are held as advisory by California state courts. If, however, your charges are brought by a federal prosecutor the court is going to have much less flexibility in sentencing. There is also an enormous discrepancy between the amount of powdered cocaine considered evidence as intent to sell and the amount of crack, or base cocaine considered evidence of intent to sell. Possession of 500 grams of powdered cocaine will lead to an automatic charge of possession with intent to sell, while possession of only five grams of base cocaine triggers a charge of intent to sell. Possession of that small amount of base cocaine carries with it a mandatory federal sentence of five years in prison.
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Under California law conviction of cocaine possession with intent to sell can lead to a sentence of two to four years in prison. This felony is not eligible for the probation and rehabilitation programs available for simple possession. This is an area where it is critical that you have an experienced cocaine defense attorney who may be able to negotiate a plea to a lesser charge, which can lead to probation instead of jail. If you have been arrested for possession of base, or crack cocaine you are in a difficult legal thicket that requires experienced legal counsel at the first available opportunity.
Sale and Trafficking in Cocaine
Sale of cocaine or transport of it with the intent to sell is punishable by a prison sentence of three to five years. If you are engaged in preparing cocaine for sale — manufacturing crack or cutting powdered cocaine — your sentence can stretch to seven years, under California law. While this section of the California Health and Penal Code is meant to apply to serious cocaine dealers and distributors, many casual users who have sold cocaine on the side have been charged with very serious offenses. There is also the danger of falling into a federal prosecution, since so many arrests for sale and manufacture of illicit drugs are made by federal agents. In that instance, there are mandatory jail sentences of five-plus years for selling or producing cocaine for sale.
Other Penalties for Cocaine
With any prosecution for the use of a Schedule II drug there is likely to be a fine, or a series of fines attached to a series of charges. Those fines can very quickly get into several thousands of dollars. There is also the California “Three Strikes” law to consider. The Three Strikes law provides that any individual with a “serious” or violent felony conviction on the record gets special punitive treatment. A second felony conviction leads to double the sentence of the first, and a third felony conviction — no matter what the crime — results in a sentence of twenty five years to life.
An experienced defense attorney can help you negotiate resolution of your fines based on your ability to pay. If you have a prior felony conviction, the clock is ticking on additional felonies so you’ll need legal counsel to try and negotiate a plea that does not result in a “strike.” There are a lot of complexities and some real land mines if you’re navigating through a cocaine charge, call our offices today.