Protecting Your Rights When You’re Facing Prescription Drug Charges

Almost 50 percent of the U.S. population has used at least one prescription drug in the last month, and 24 percent have used three or more. And while prescription drug use is legal as long as you have been legally prescribed the medication by a licensed health care provider, drug charges related to prescription drug possession and use are happening more and more across Orange County. If you’re facing these charges, it’s important to understand what rights you have as a defendant, the legal strategies you can use for your defense, and how an attorney can help.

Understanding Prescription Drug Charges in California

Prescription medications are highly regulated in California, and if someone is using or is in possession of a prescription drug without a valid prescription, they can face criminal charges. Many of these crimes can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the substance involved, the amount of the drug, and other factors. Some of the potential charges you could face in relation to prescription drug usage include:

  • Possession of prescription drugs without a valid prescription
  • Possession with intent to sell
  • Sale and transportation of a controlled substance
  • Prescription drug fraud, such as obtaining a prescription for a controlled substance through fraudulent means or misrepresentation
  • Driving under the influence of prescription drugs

California uses a drug classifications system to organize prescriptions into different categories — called schedules — based on how dangerous they are. Prescription medications generally fall into Schedules II through V. For example, Vicodin and OxyContin are Schedule II drugs, while Xanax and Tramadol are Schedule IV drugs. In general, the higher the schedule, the more severe the potential penalties could be.

Potential Penalties and Consequences

The criminal penalties you could be subjected to if you’re convicted of a crime related to prescription drugs depend on the exact charge. In addition, some prescription drug charges are wobblers, which means they can be prosecuted as either felonies or misdemeanors. For example, simple possession of a Schedule V substance is likely to result in misdemeanor charges, but a charge of possession with intent to sell a Schedule II substance could be a felony.

Misdemeanor charges are generally punishable by up to 1 year in jail, but for first-time offenders, it may be possible to ask to be sentenced to a diversion program, such as a substance abuse treatment program. Felony charges are punishable by more than 1 year behind bars, and the sentence is often served in a state prison instead of a county jail.

It’s important to note that felony drug charges can count as a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law if you are convicted, which could eventually result in harsher sentencing for repeat offenders.

Your Rights as a Defendant

If you’re facing prescription drug charges in Orange County, it’s important to know what your rights are.

Right to Defense Representation

First and foremost, you have the right to defense representation. While it’s always better to hire an experienced defense attorney directly, the courts will appoint you a public defender if you’re unable to afford an attorney on your own. It’s crucial that you exercise this right to legal counsel as soon as possible. Letting the officer know that you want an attorney at the time of the arrest means that they can’t ask you any questions until you’ve had a chance to speak with a lawyer.

Right to Be Protected Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure

You also have the right to be protected from unlawful search and seizure, which is a main factor in many prescription drug cases. In general, police officers must have probable cause to stop you or search your person, vehicle, or belongings. It’s common for prescription drug charges to come as a result of a simple traffic stop, where an officer then found medications the driver didn’t have a prescription for. If the officer didn’t have probable cause for the traffic stop or the search, the evidence from that stop can be ruled inadmissible in court, which can effectively end the prosecution’s case in many situations.

Right to Remain Silent

When you are being placed under arrest, the officer should read you your Miranda rights, which include the right to remain silent. This means that you cannot be forced to answer questions or offer any information that could be incriminating. It also means that refusing to speak can’t be equated with guilt in the eyes of the law. This is an important point because it’s common for defendants to inadvertently provide the prosecution with more evidence as they speak or answer questions — even if they are denying guilt. It’s best to refuse to say anything other than that you wish to talk to an attorney.

Defending Against Prescription Drug Charges

The criminal justice system in California takes prescription drug charges seriously, and you could face harsh sentences if convicted. It’s crucial to have an experienced defense attorney on your side who can explain what your defense options are and advocate for your rights every step of the way.


If you have been arrested for illegal possession of prescription medications, you need to talk to the team at The Socal Law Network now. Our knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys have experience with prescription drug charges, and we’re here to help you navigate the process and fight back against these charges. Call our Orange County office at 949-779-3799 to schedule your case evaluation and find out what you need to know about your charges and your defense options.