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Avoiding Jail Time for Drug Possession in California

Addiction is a disease and the California criminal justice system treats it as such. If you’ve been arrested for a nonviolent drug possession offense, there is a remedy available to avoid prison and a criminal record. Here’s what you need to know.

Prop 36, aka the “Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act,” was passed by California voters in 2000 and went into effect the next year. The law expresses the legislature’s sense that substance abuse treatment is preferable to incarceration for people whose drug use is due to addiction or psychological causes. In practical terms, this diversionary program allows a nonviolent drug possessor to receive probation — conditioned upon completion of a drug treatment program — instead of drawing jail time. What’s more, after the program and any follow-up procedures are completed, the criminal charge can be dismissed and the arrest record wiped clean.

Drug possession is considered nonviolent as long as it is not committed along with an offense on California’s list of 23 violent crimes, which include murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, robbery, kidnapping and carjacking.

There are, of course, limitations to Prop 36. For one, it applies only to carrying drugs for personal use, not to commercial possession or production. While there is no limit on the quantity of the drugs possessed, the amount certainly bears on the question of whether the use is personal. For another, if you have twice participated in the Prop 36 program and a court found you were not amenable to drug treatment, you don’t qualify for a third try.

You are also ineligible if:

  • You carried a firearm while in possession of drugs.
  • You are convicted in the same proceeding of a non-drug related misdemeanor or any felony.
  • You have two separate drug-related convictions.
  • You’ve been incarcerated within the last five years for a serious or violent felony offense.
  • You refuse treatment as a condition of probation.

If you qualify under the above guidelines, you aren’t required to plead guilty in order to take advantage of Prop 36 probation. Instead, your case is put on hold while you complete the probationary program. At that point, the court conducts a hearing and, if it finds there is reasonable cause to believe you won’t abuse drugs in the future, the charges will be dismissed.

If you’ve been charged with a drug possession offense, an experienced defense attorney can analyze whether you are eligible for Prop 36 or if other remedies are available to you.

To learn more about how Amber Gordon can help you with criminal defense in California, call us at 310-773-3980 or contact us online to arrange a free consultation at our Los Angeles office.

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