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Possession of Methamphetamine - California Health and Safety Code 11377

Possession of methamphetamine is criminalized by California Health and Safety Code 11377. In order for the District Attorney to convict someone of possession of meth charges under California Health and Safety Code 11377(a), the prosecution must prove that: (1) you unlawfully possessed a controlled substance, (2) you knew of its presence, (3) you knew of the substance's nature or character as a controlled substance, (4) the controlled substance was methamphetamine, and (5) the amount of the controlled substance was a "usable amount". These are elements that have various nuances and should be analyzed by a criminal drug attorney.

Methamphetamines are one of the many drugs that are regulated by the United States Controlled Substances Act. Methamphetamine is often referred to as meth, crystal, rock, etc. The possession or use of methamphetamines without a prescription is criminalized in California.

Health & Safety Code 11377 is the California drug law that makes it a crime to simply possess methamphetamines for personal use. Generally, simple possession of methamphetamines will be charged as a California misdemeanor. It is also possible to charge H&S 11377 as a felony if the methamphetamine is in crystal meth form and a defendant has a prior conviction for a sex crime pursuant to Penal Code 667 or Penal Code 290. If convicted of a H&S 11377 as a felony, the lower mid and high terms of imprisonment or jail are 16 months, 2 years or 3 years.

The key issues that the prosecution must overcome are whether you had actual possession of the methamphetamine and whether you knew of the nature and character of the substance in your possession.

In order to prosecute for California Health and Safety Code 11377, the state has the burden to prove the defendant guilty of either of the following:

1. The defendant had direct power to use or control methamphetamines;

2. The defendant had sufficient amounts of the methamphetamine for it to be abused.; or

3. The defendant was aware that methamphetamine was in their possession.

If the defendant did not know there was possession of methamphetamine, or didn't know that it was a controlled substance, then, theoretically, there was no statutory violation. These possession issues can be very tricky and our drug attorneys in Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Lake, Mendocino and Humboldt counties can help anyone charged with H&S 11377 with these issues to their benefit.

California's criminal law defines "possession" as either being actual, constructive or joint. Possessing meth in any of these three ways can subject defendant to a Health and Safety Code 11377 prosecution.

  1. Actual – on defendant's person
  2. Constructive - defendant has control (either directly or through another person) over the location where the crystal meth was discovered
  3. Joint - actual or constructive possession with one or more other people.

It must be proven that defendant:

  1. a. knew of the drug's presence, and
  2. b. knew of its nature as a controlled substance.


Common defenses to HS 11377 California methamphetamine charges include:

1. Possessing a valid prescription for the methamphetamines and in an amount consistent with the prescription's purpose or with permission of the prescription holder per H&S 11377(c);

2. The meth actually belonged to someone else; or

3. The defendant is unaware the drugs possessed were a controlled substance; or,

4. The police found the meth as a result of an illegal search and seizure. As an example if the police without a search warrant, permission or exigent circumstances, enter someone's house and find methamphetamine the criminal drug lawyer will go to court and file a motion to suppress and, if successful, have all of the methamphetamine thrown out of court so that it cannot be used in the criminal proceedings which will generally result in the dismissal of any charges.


According to California Health and Safety Code section 11377, the sentencing and punishment for possession of methamphetamine will occur as a misdemeanor . A misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine conviction is punishable by up to a year in county jail and can include a fine of up to $1,000. You might also be placed on probation and may have to attend drug classes.

Potential Felony Penalties:

Possession of Methamphetamine can be filed as a felony, as mentioned above depending upon the defendant's criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the case.

Possession of crystal meth can be charged as a felony if the defendant has a prior conviction for a sex crime or serious offense, such as murder or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Those found guilty of a felony conviction for Possession of Methamphetamine can be punished by up to 3 Years in the California State Prison/ jail and up to $10,000 in fines.

Alternatives to Criminal Prosecution:

Some people who are charged but not yet convicted of California's illegal possession of drug paraphernalia law may be eligible for alternative programs such as Drug Diversion, Mental Health Diversion and Military Diversion. Drug attorneys from Santa Rosa, Napa, San Rafael, Lakeport, Ukiah and Eureka almost always suggest diversion programs instead of criminal prosecution, if available. If accepted into one of these programs, criminal proceedings are suspended. Upon successful completion of a diversion program, all jail time, fines, probation, etc. are eliminated. In addition, the criminal arrest and records showing criminal charges that were created as a result of an initial criminal proceeding, can be sealed or, in essence, removed from your criminal history and the only folks that can see the original crimes charged information is law enforcement.

Conviction Alternatives:

Even if convicted of H&S 11377, a defendant may very well be able to take advantage of an alternative sentence that is available under California Proposition 36 or an alternative sentencing program pursuant to Penal Code 1000, California's Drug Diversion or "Deferred entry of Judgment" program. Utilizing these programs a drug defense attorney may very well be able to seek educational alternatives to help resolve a drug addiction instead of a defendant going to jail. It should also be noted that even if a defendant is convicted, after they successfully complete probation, a criminal drug lawyer from one our offices in Santa Rosa, Napa, San Rafael, Lakeport, Ukiah and Eureka can make an application to the court for expungement of the crime and have the case dismissed. This adds a very favorable entry into someone's criminal history which can be problematic if it contains a drug related conviction.

The Law Itself: California Health and Safety Code Section 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 of not more than one year, except that such person may instead be punished pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code if that person has one or more prior convictions for an offense specified in clause (iv) of subparagraph (C) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (e) of Section 667 of the Penal Code or for an offense requiring registration pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 290 of the Penal Code.

(b) The judge may assess a fine not to exceed seventy dollars ($70) against any 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.

(c) It is not unlawful for a person other than the prescription holder to possess a controlled substance described in subdivision (a) if both of the following apply:

(1) The possession of the controlled substance is at the direction or with the express authorization of the prescription holder.

(2) The sole intent of the possessor is to deliver the prescription to the prescription holder for its prescribed use or to discard the substance in a lawful manner.

(d) This section does not permit the use of a controlled substance by a person other than the prescription holder or permit the distribution or sale of a controlled substance that is otherwise inconsistent with the prescription.

(Amended (as amended by Proposition 47) by Stats. 2017, Ch. 269, Sec. 6. (SB 811) Effective January 1, 2018. Note: This section was amended on Nov. 4, 2014, by initiative Prop. 47.)

Remember, Ronald Dinan and Associates, is a firm of experienced and aggressive criminal drug lawyers, who can help in achieving the best outcome in your case. Many times criminal case dispositions will include reduction or outright dismissal of the number and/or severity of criminal charges, diversion programs, probation, reduced fines with installment payments, alternatives to jail, etc.

To get immediate help with your criminal matter, we invite you to call us to discuss your case. We answer all telephone calls in a polite, professional and helpful manner.

Santa Rosa – 707-571-5550

Napa – 707-252-0102

Marin – 415-491-0223

Lakeport – 707-262-0503

Ukiah – 707-462-5950

Eureka – 707-445-1348

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