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San Diego Drug defense attorney

Defending Drug Charges in California | Zentz & Zentz

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San Diego Drug Charges Defense lawyer

Drug possession and drug trafficking are among the most common criminal charges in California. It is estimated that nearly 70% of people imprisoned in the state are convicted of a drug-related charge. Not only are San Diego drug laws strict, navigating the complex legal system once you've been arrested can also be a challenge. Whether you have been arrested for possession of a controlled substance or accused of a federal drug trafficking offense, you need to hire an experienced San Diego defense attorney.

At Zentz Law, we provide clients with comprehensive, uncompromising defense strategies against San Diego drug charges, including distribution, possession, sale and trafficking of controlled substances. We specialize in fighting charges associated with heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs. Here's what you need to know if you are facing a drug charge in San Diego.

The Difference Between Drug Possession and Drug Trafficking

Both drug trafficking and drug possession charges begin with you being arrested for having drugs in your possession. However, the charges are vastly different, and it is essential to understand both offenses' intricacies. The intent is a crucial factor in determining whether you are charged with drug possession or drug trafficking. In trafficking cases, courts must prove the intention to distribute or sell controlled substances across state or national lines. You can also be charged with drug possession with intent if you are suspected of selling narcotics without crossing state or national lines. Those accused of drug trafficking are often part of a criminal organization rather than individual drug distributors.

On the other hand, a drug possession charge means illegal narcotics were found on your body or in your car. Drug possession charges are also commonly filed against individuals who are caught using drugs at the time of contact with law enforcement. Prison sentences for those convicted of drug possession start at one year, while those convicted of drug trafficking typically face a minimum of five years in prison and hefty fines.

Possession With Intent To Sell Charges

Being charged with drug possession with intent is more serious than being charged with simple drug possession. Law enforcement officers may charge you with drug possession with intent if they find the following:

• A large amount of a controlled substance in your possession
• Tools such as scales or plastic bags in your possession
• A sizeable amount of cash in your possession
• Weapons on your body or in your car or home
• Evidence of heavy foot traffic in and around your property

Your defense lawyer can challenge your possession with intent to sell charge by disputing the number of drugs found in your possession or questioning the lawfulness of the search of your home or car.

San Diego Drug Possession Laws

California state possession laws include two categories: simple possession and possession with intent to sell. California law separates offenses related to controlled substances from crimes related to marijuana. State law also separates violations related to phencyclidine and methamphetamine.

Possession for sale

The California Health and Safety Code regulates the substances for which an individual can be charged with possession for sale. You can be charged with simple possession if you are caught with an unlawful narcotic in your possession. You can be charged with possession for sale if the courts believe you were engaged in drug dealing activities.

Penalties after Prop 47

Penalties for drug possession charges vary greatly depending on the drug type, the amount found in your possession, and the purpose you had for the drugs in your possession. In 2014, sentences for drug possession changed when California residents passed Proposition 47. This law states that many drug possession offenses can only be charged as a misdemeanor. Further, the law allows individuals already serving time in prison for drug possession offenses to petition the court for resentencing or sentencing leniency.

Recreational marijuana decriminalized

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64, decriminalizing recreational marijuana use. The law states that adults over the age of 21 may buy, possess and consume up to 28.5 grams of marijuana. Marijuana must be consumed in a private residence or in another licensed facility to be lawful. Using marijuana in public or while operating a motor vehicle is still illegal. Further, possessing or using marijuana on the grounds of a daycare center, educational facility or youth center while children are present remains illegal. Additionally, individuals are permitted to grow a certain amount of marijuana within a private residence. Medical marijuana use remains lawful as long as it is authorized by a medical professional.

Understanding Marijuana Laws in California

All San Diego residents need to understand that while recreational and medical marijuana are, in fact, legal to buy, possess, and consume in California, certain activities related to marijuana remain prohibited by state law and can incur severe penalties. Unfortunately, due to the way the human body metabolizes marijuana, some individuals may face criminal charges related to marijuana, specifically driving under the influence (DUI).

Marijuana metabolizes very slowly in the body, but the intoxicating effects only last a few hours in most cases. This means it is possible for a chemical test to show marijuana in a person’s bloodstream several hours after the inebriating effects have faded and they are perfectly sober. If you are charged with DUI for driving while under the influence of marijuana, it is vital for your San Diego drug crimes attorney to emphasize this fact in handling your case. It’s possible for a chronic user of marijuana to test positive up to one month after consuming cannabis even if they stopped using it completely.

Potential Penalties for Drug Crimes in California

Typically, California prosecutors will seek drug offense penalties based on the type and quantity of drug involved in a case. However, Prop 47 reduced the maximum penalties for drug possession charges to the misdemeanor level, even if a suspect is arrested for possession of Schedule I narcotics such as synthetic opioids or cocaine. Penalties escalate dramatically, however, if there is evidence that the suspect intended to sell drugs. Aggravating factors in a drug possession case that can potentially propel the suspect’s charges beyond the misdemeanor level include:

• Evidence that the suspect intended to sell the drugs in their possession. This typically involves the presence of paraphernalia such as baggies, scales for weighing specific amounts of drugs, large amounts of cash, and quantities too large to be reasonably believed to be intended for personal use.
• Attempting to sell drugs to another party.
• Attempting to sell or selling drugs to a minor.
• Transporting drugs knowingly on behalf of another party.
• Attempting to sell drugs near a drug treatment center or rehab facility.

If any such evidence exists, the suspect could face felony-level prosecution. The penalties escalate far beyond the usual penalties for drug possession in California under Prop 47 and may include felony probation, three to five years in county jail, and up to $20,000 in fines.

Beyond the legal punishments for drug charges in California, a defendant will likely face a wide range of additional adverse effects that can impact their life in many ways for years to come. For example, if the suspect holds a professional license of any kind, such as a license to practice law or medicine, it is very likely that the judge handling their sentencing will suspend or revoke their professional licenses. This could, in turn, lead to disciplinary actions from any professional organizations with oversight over the defendant’s career, such as the California Bar Association or medical board. A defendant who loses their professional license may be unable to work in their intended field for years to come, or they may be barred from participating in their chosen line of work permanently, resulting in significant financial strain and difficulty finding a new job.

A felony conviction for drug charges in San Diego will also create a permanent criminal record that is very difficult to expunge. This can interfere with finding a job, obtaining financial aid, and many other difficulties in someone’s personal and professional life.

Noncitizens convicted of felony-level drug offenses in California could see their immigration status jeopardized. Their visa or immigration application could be denied, and they could face deportation, depending on the severity of the offense. College students or high school students preparing for college, when charged as adults at the felony level, may be denied financial assistance for school. Felony drug charges will also likely result in a 10-year ban on owning firearms in California, and parents charged with drug-related offenses could have their custody rights stripped. Ultimately, a drug offense has the potential to cause life-altering effects in many ways, so it is vital to work with an experienced San Diego drug crimes attorney if you face any type of drug charges in southern California.

California Drug Crimes Defense

Even if you have been charged with a drug offense in California, you still have certain rights. You have the right to fight the charges against you in a lawful trial and maintain representation in all legal proceedings. At Zentz Law, we are committed to helping defendants navigate the complex California legal system. Our team of lawyers can assist you in filing pretrial motions, gathering evidence, and preparing a defense for a trial. It is possible to get an order from the court to suppress the admission of specific evidence into court consideration. Limiting the amount of evidence against you is a primary concern, and we want to ensure your constitutional rights are maintained during all stages of the process. Our attorneys will work to get the best outcome in your case. Whether you want to accept a plea bargain or defend yourself in front of a jury, we can advise you of your rights and provide you with the most comprehensive representation possible.

A good San Diego drug crimes attorney will look for all available defenses on behalf of their client, from attacking the prosecution’s evidence and questioning the legality of their client’s arrest to citing procedural issues with their client’s court proceedings. The first line of defense in a drug-related criminal case is usually to look at the circumstances of the defendant’s arrest. For example, if you were stopped by police for a moving violation that led to the officer arresting you for drug-related charges, your attorney will want to ensure the arresting officer met the legal requirements for probable cause before conducting the arrest.

Unfortunately, some police officers resort to unethical and even illegal measures to secure arrests. They may illegally profile suspects or plant evidence during a traffic stop to initiate drug-related arrests. If you believe you have experienced any such treatment from the arresting officers who opened your case, it is vital to bring this information to the attention of your San Diego drug crimes attorney immediately.

Other procedural issues that can call the validity of a drug-related arrest into question include due process violations and violations of a suspect’s constitutional rights. For example, when the police arrest an individual, they must read them their Miranda rights. This includes an explanation that the suspect has the right to remain silent and that anything they say or do can be entered into evidence and used against them in a court of law. The arresting officer must also inform the suspect that they have the right to legal counsel, and if they cannot afford a private attorney, the court can provide a public defender at no cost. The police must also treat the suspect humanely following arrest through the booking process. If you experience any mistreatment from the police, inform your attorney immediately. Police misconduct could result in your case being dropped entirely.

Is the Cost of Hiring a Drug Attorney a Good Value?

Every American citizen has the right to legal counsel after an arrest. While the cost of a private defense attorney can be relatively high, it is vital to understand the value an experienced San Diego drug crimes attorney can provide to your case. If you cannot afford an attorney or do not wish to pay for a private defense attorney, you have the option of securing legal counsel from a public defender. However, if you are intent on this option, it is vital to understand what this choice entails.

Public defenders are employed by the court and typically handle multiple cases at a time. While the majority of public defenders in San Diego are competent, capable, and dedicated attorneys, their large caseloads prevent them from providing much in the way of individual attention to any given case. If you choose a public defender to represent you, it is very likely that they will already have several other cases demanding their attention simultaneously. Your public defender may only be able to provide an hour or so of their attention to your case each day, so you cannot expect much individual attention.

By comparison, private criminal defense attorneys like those at Zentz & Zentz are capable of delivering much more robust defense representation. While private defense attorneys may manage multiple cases at a team, they have large teams capable of spreading their resources and attention adequately to every case they manage. Additionally, private defense firms balance their caseloads to ensure they have plenty of time and resources to devote to each case, typically moving from case to case during lapses in case proceedings. Ultimately, hiring a private San Diego drug crimes attorney will cost more than choosing a public defender to represent you, but you will receive a much higher level of representation and will likely secure a much better outcome in your case.

Fighting Multiple Charges

Some drug cases in San Diego are the results of mistaken identity, police misconduct, or the suspect was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. In these cases, defense attorneys should seek an acquittal for their clients. In other cases, defendants know they broke the law and simply need to mitigate their penalties as much as possible. If you were arrested for any type of drug charge in San Diego, you must be aware of the aggravating and mitigating factors in play in your case and the value of working with a reliable San Diego drug crimes attorney.

“Aggravating” factors are elements of a drug case that worsen the defendant’s situation. For example, being arrested in possession of illegal narcotics is terrible, but if you also had an illegal firearm in your possession at the time of your arrest, this is much worse. Other aggravating factors that often come into play in drug cases in California include:

The age of alleged victims. Selling drugs illegally to an adult can result in criminal penalties but attempting to sell drugs to minors is an aggravating factor that will result in much harsher penalties.
Prior convictions. If you have previous drug charges on your record, a subsequent charge could result in much harsher penalties.
Related violations. Driving under the influence of drugs, weapons charges, probation violations, reckless endangerment, and illegal drug use in the presence of children are all aggravating factors that will work against a defendant in a drug case.

On the other hand, “mitigating” factors are details of a drug case that work in the defendant’s favor. A good San Diego drug crimes attorney should work swiftly to quash or question aggravating factors while gathering as much evidence as they can to emphasize mitigating factors, such as:

• The defendant’s willingness to cooperate with the police during their arrest.
• The defendant’s record if they have no prior drug charges or other criminal convictions.
• Police misconduct, such as failure to establish probable cause before conducting the arrest or failure to read the suspect their Miranda rights during the arrest.
• Mishandling of evidence.
• Substance abuse disorder. If the defendant has a documented substance abuse disorder, their attorney may leverage this in their favor. For example, if they are charged with a nonviolent drug offense, their attorney may help them secure mandatory substance abuse treatment in lieu of jail time and other criminal penalties.

These are just a few potential examples of mitigating factors that can work in a defendant’s favor in a drug case. When you choose a reputable and experienced San Diego drug crimes attorney to represent you, they should thoroughly investigate any and all aggravating and mitigating factors that are likely to come into play as your case unfolds. In the event your case involves more than just drug-related offenses, such as DUI or weapons violations, it is vital to work closely with an experienced attorney if you want to avoid the worst possible penalties.

What Is Plea Bargaining?

If you know you made a mistake and broke the law, it is reasonable to expect some form of punishment as your case reaches a conclusion. In most drug cases, prosecutors are willing to work with defense counsel in a process known as plea bargaining to streamline case proceedings. Plea bargaining, as the term suggests, is the process of negotiating a lighter sentence for the defendant in exchange for a guilty plea. When a defendant pleads “not guilty,” the subsequent litigation can be costly for both the defense and the prosecution, and criminal litigation can take months or even years before a case reaches a conclusion. In plea bargaining, the defendant pleads guilty. In exchange for a lighter sentence, the prosecution secures a conviction more quickly and preserves court resources.

Your San Diego drug crimes attorney will help you understand the plea-bargaining process and what you can expect in your case. Depending on the severity of the charges against you, you may have minimal room to negotiate when it comes to your charges and sentencing. However, a good defense attorney will leverage any and all available evidence in their client’s favor and help them make the strongest possible case for a lighter sentence. In some situations, plea bargaining can potentially lead to a significantly lighter punishment, such as reducing a felony to the misdemeanor level, exchanging probation for jail time, and other benefits for the defendant.

Contact Zentz & Zentz Attorneys at Law for Your San Diego Drug Case

If you are fighting San Diego drug charges, you need to hire an experienced defense attorney. Our legal team is experienced, knowledgeable, and committed to ensuring all of our clients are defended adequately before and after trial. You do not need to fight your legal battle alone. Contact Zentz & Zentz today for assistance. We take simple drug possession, possession for sale and drug tracking cases. Don't risk your family's future by fighting the charges without an experienced attorney by your side. Call us today to receive a no-obligation quote.

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