Possession of a controlled substance penalties?
July 16, 2005 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find out the penalty for a third conviction of possession of a controlled substance in California. My friend is contemplating, as a last resort, calling the police on her sister, a methamphetamine abuser. I haven't been able to find anything.
posted by camfys to Law & Government (25 answers total)
CA has a three strikes law - the penalty might very well be life in prison without parole. I would rather my sister die from a meth overdose than go to jail for life.
posted by caddis at 8:23 PM on July 16, 2005

I don't want to go into specifics but I really, really don't recommend that route, Cali has a three-strikes law. If it's possible, get her committed to a rehab facility (forcefully if necessary)

On Preview: Caddis nailed the reason.
posted by cyphill at 8:25 PM on July 16, 2005

A hard life of meth abuse is much better than a hard life of meth abuse in prison.
posted by Jairus at 8:35 PM on July 16, 2005

Even if this person is seriously f*cking up their lives, they shouldn't go to prison for drugs. She may deserve to go to prison for other reasons (like child neglect, which a lot of meth heads are guilty of), but nobody deserves to go to prison for drugs.
posted by afroblanca at 8:53 PM on July 16, 2005

Calling the cops will most likely not get the sister to kick meth. A better approach would be for the friend to tell her "Call me when you want to really want to stop" and then cut off all contact, painful as that might be.
posted by cmonkey at 8:53 PM on July 16, 2005

Response by poster: I know that Prop 36 allows first and second time drug offenders to go into treatment instead of jail, but my question is, being that this would be a third offense, what the minimum penalty is? Thanks
posted by camfys at 9:06 PM on July 16, 2005

Response by poster: I totally understand what you guys are saying. For what its worth, I agree. But its really involved and complicated and I'm just looking for information for her.
posted by camfys at 9:13 PM on July 16, 2005

I believe in California they tack on an enhancement prison term of 25 years to life plus the sentence for the third crime. So I guess the minimum penalty would be around 25 years.
posted by cyphill at 9:31 PM on July 16, 2005

Best answer: BTW, three strikes in CA is for "violent and serious" felonies only. As far as I know posession of methamphetamine does not apply to the three strikes provision.

Nobody can answer your question with precision, camfys, because first, you have not provided sufficient information (nature and conclusion of the first two convictions, whether the individual in question is in a probation situation) and second because it depends on what the individual is caught with, is charged with, whether the charge sticks, whether a plea is offered, what the outcome of trial if any is, etc.

Here is something from a legal website of a CA lawfirm, about as close as I can get to an answer:

"The Controlled Substance Act is a consolidation of laws that regulate the possession, manufacture and distribution of narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, and chemicals used in the illicit production of controlled substances or illegal drugs.

The Act breaks down narcotics into 5 different categories or "schedules", the most serious being "Schedule 1" offenses.

Some examples of "Schedule 1" narcotics are:


Penalties for schedule 1 narcotics offenses are severe. Depending on the amount of narcotic seized, a first offense conviction could mean a prison term of up to 20 years plus fines; and, if you have been convicted of 2 previous offenses, you could be facing life in prison."


Several thoughts:

Your friend is taking a huge chance with her sister's life if she goes into this without better information and ask Metafilter is not the place to get it. If she decides to go forward she needs to gather the most complete and accurate information she can on her sister's previous offenses and current legal situation and discuss this with a lawyer who is experienced with drug cases to develop a full and accurate understanding of the potential consequences if she succeeds in getting her sister arrested for posession of methamphetamine. Depending on the circumstances though, she could inadvertently condemn her sister to a life sentence in prison.

There is a distinct possibility that she will not be able to provike an arrest. Police need specific conditions to be met to arrest an individual and having a family member tell them "this person is abusing meth again" is not going to meet those conditions. She needs to have specific, direct information about a crime the person is committing at that time and even then the police may not go for it because of the potential weakness of the case if the family member later refuses to cooperate with prosecution. It is possible her sister could learn that she called the cops on her without her being arrested, in which case she will most likely lose any ability to influence her sister while accomplishing nothing.

Having, I hope, provided some information useful for your specific question, I'll toss in my two cents and say that I think it is a terrible, terrible idea to resort to police intervention in the case of voluntary individual drug abuse. The sad reality in this nation is that our legal system is frequently unpredictable and arbitrary, the penal system frequently fails to rehabilitate, is directly dangerous to prisoners in a number of ways, and may very well ultimately make the abuser's condition worse. After a family member has intervened to the best of their ability with a drug abuser I believe the best that can be done is to refuse to interact with them if they insist on continuing the abuse. I'll note I did on one occasion have to intervene with an immediate family member who had secretly returned to a substance abuse problem so I'm not merely talking theoretically.
posted by nanojath at 9:38 PM on July 16, 2005

Best answer: Please please please don't let her call the police. They will only, seriously, make the problem worse. Drug laws are full of minimum penalties, permanent ostracization from society, and "remember we're dealing with scum of the Earth" philosophy. Drug law has a marvelously byzantine history that has led to complete absurdity at this point. Judges have no authority, life in prison can happen almost on accident, people with almost no connnection to her can have their property forfeited. It's bad. There is almost no chance that the law will be able to help this person, even if many of the actors in it will genuinely want to. Calling the cops on violence or theft is reasonble in my mind, but I'd never mention drugs.

It's sad but you can't even talk about them rationally. I don't think drugs of any sort are a good thing, but I wouldn't wish a drug offense on my worst enemy, seriously.

Your friend is probably worried about her sister and doesn't need to be introduced to a serious societal problem and it's ramifications, but if she feels like she has to do this, please try and get her to read Drug Warriors And Their Prey by Richard Lawrence Miller, before she does anything. Even if she thinks it's a totally biased polemic (which is hard for me to imagine given the depth of research), it may at least help her avoid doing something really dumb in her dealings with the law.

That said, about how terrible the law can be in cases like this, I feel like there's some real American (if you are ;) freedom issues to think about here. The freedom to make bad choices, to live a life that others find repugnant or even suicidal, is one of those things that test our beliefs. Freedom is framed so often as an unmitigated good, but these are the things that test it, the dark side of freedom.

Of course, there's the adage that your freedom to punch me ends where my nose begins. If she is violent, abusive, thieving, these are not behaviors that need to be philosophized about (besides perhaps noting that much of the violence associated with drugs should really be associated with purely unregulated markets - no authority to appeal to for justice etc.) but freedom in my book includes the freedom to make bad decisions.

Your friend needs to, in the words of our illustrious VP, "offer therapy and understanding" and try to convince her that she has good reasons to change her lifestyle, if she calls the cops she must "prepare for war".

Please, this is so important, I'm typing this thinking "no, no, please, no." I don't know the details, but I imagine this is a truly terrible situation, and it's gonna be really really hard to make it better, but so amazingly easy to make it worse.
posted by 31d1 at 9:55 PM on July 16, 2005

Just so we're clear here:

Serious Felonies

24. selling, furnishing, administering, giving, or offering to sell,furnish, administer, or give to a minor any heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine(PCP), or any methamphetamine-related drug, as described in paragraph (2) of subdivision (d) of Section 11055 of the Health and Safety Code, or any of theprecursors of methamphetamines, as described in subparagraph (A) of paragraph(1) of subdivision (f) of Section 11055 or subdivision (a) of Section 11100of the Health and Safety Code;
posted by cyphill at 9:59 PM on July 16, 2005

Ok, for some reason my post was cut off, but given that you can be convicted of intent to sell drugs just by possessing a certain amount, it's more than possible that her convictions are covered by the three strikes law.
posted by cyphill at 10:03 PM on July 16, 2005

Have you any knowledge of what jail is like?
Assuming that she would still be addicted - what do you think she would do to get a fix in jail?
Adding a prison record to her problems is not a solution.
posted by Cranberry at 11:41 PM on July 16, 2005

Meth is a very seriously addictive drug, and your friend's sister won't get treatment for it in prison. Recovery is a really hard and challenging road, and people generally won't do it until they feel in their hearts that they have no choice.

You friend might do better to find out about using a good interventionist, or by attending Alanon (or Narconan), both of which are self-help groups that aim to help people learn how to conduct their lives when they have a loved one who is an addict.
posted by jasper411 at 11:48 PM on July 16, 2005

dont call em
posted by sophist at 1:28 AM on July 17, 2005

I sympathize with your friend. I had a friend in a similar situation regarding a family member, who was using cocaine irresponsibly. My friend didn't want to call the police because of similar reasons. He eventually overdosed and died.

Afterwards the police of the locality told her that their policy is usually not to prosecute people for at-home drug offenses, merely to ensure destruction or confiscation of the drugs and drug paraphernalia. I can confirm this with some anecdotal evidence involving other friends and marijuana, although they claimed it applied to harder drugs as well.

My friend sure wishes she had called the police today. So you might talk with them and ask what their response would be (hypothetically of course).
posted by grouse at 1:28 AM on July 17, 2005

You may try getting the perspective of a friend or family member who's worked in law enforcement. I highly doubt they would recommend another family member of yours to their tender care - but who knows what they'd say. My personal impression is that this is something I'd never in a million years do to a friend. The chances of landing a short prison term to get "scared straight" sound slimmer than just landing a big hassle, some legal expenses and a lousy night in jail. The former might be imagined to be some kind of cure (quite arguable at best), but the latter would do nothing but sunder their relationship forever.

Is this person really on the edge of death? Or does someone just REALLY not approve of her behavior? Better to stay around and be a sister, even if ultimately nothing can be done, than to remove all trust between them forever and precipitate a sudden end to all relations. That could hasten any potential tragedy.
posted by scarabic at 4:34 AM on July 17, 2005

Where the hell are you guys getting your information?

Prop 66: Should the "Three Strikes" law be limited to violent and/or serious felonies? Permits limited re-sentencing under new definitions. Increases punishment for specified sex crimes against children.

5,596,077 / 47.3% Yes votes ...... 6,230,122 / 52.7% No votes
posted by effugas at 5:23 AM on July 17, 2005

A NO vote of this measure means:
Current sentencing law would remain in effect, requiring offenders with one or more prior convictions for serious or violent felonies to receive longer sentences for the conviction of any new felony (not just a serious or violent felony). In addition, prison sentences for certain sex offenses against children would remain unchanged.

From your link. The three strikes law is very much still alive, and meth is still very much covered by it. If you don't think possession of meth is a serious felony, see my comments above.

I wouldn't post a link before reading it thoroughly

posted by cyphill at 8:29 AM on July 17, 2005

its only a matter of time before a habitual meth user hurts someone else. GET THEM OFF THE STREETS NOW, I dont care what they do in prison, thats there road to hoe. Tell the mother, father, brother, sister, wife, husband of someone hurt or killed by a meth user by "Accident" or during their endless search for their next high that..

Well I had the chance to get her off the street.. but calling the police just seemed wrong to me.. I wanted to be nice and try to help her kick the habit instead with no reguards to safety of people who walk the streets with her.

No one has a right to endanger others for their own self gratifcation.
posted by crewshell at 9:24 AM on July 17, 2005

Response by poster: Crewshell, that's a bit harsh.

I didn't mean for this to turn into such a debate, my question was about sentencing, not advice over whether or not she should call the police.

Again, while I do agree with the majority of you on this, I also have seen the countless unsuccessful rehab attempts and how her habit is close to killing her, slowly torturing her family in the meantime...

It's just a thought that her family threw out...they are grasping at straws. I can't imagine the pain and desperation they are feeling.

Thank you all for your responses though...especially grouse, 31d1, and nanojath.
posted by camfys at 10:01 AM on July 17, 2005

its only a matter of time before a habitual meth user hurts someone else. GET THEM OFF THE STREETS NOW, I dont care what they do in prison, thats there road to hoe.

What a load of rubbish. Do you know anything about methampetamine besides what you read in the papers?

camfys, I don't know much about California laws, but I do know that methamphetamine is not as difficult to kick as people say. It's far easier to give up than for example tobacco. Putting her in prison won't help any.
posted by dydecker at 10:24 AM on July 17, 2005

Nanojath's wrong, as has been documented above: possession of a controlled substance counts as a strike, as an "I'm Feeling Lucky" Google search on [ "three strikes" California law ] points out.

Camfys is also probably wrong; meth use isn't healthy, but it doesn't doom you to automatic homicide.

I recall a case I saw in med school. Some 19 year old kid had gotten hopped up on meth and borrowed his mother's car without asking. She was angry, called the police and reported it stolen. She was still angry when the cops found him 10 minutes later and returned the car, so she told the cops she wanted to press charges.

Fast forward 1 year; the kid is halfway through his prison sentence, being visited daily by his tearful, regretful mother. He gets an ear infection in prison. This is neglected for 4 weeks by the prison doc, by which time it had spread into his brain and formed a 4 cm cerebellar abscess. He is hospitalized in the LA County Hospital. Because he is a prisoner, he has no choice about his doctor; and because he is non compos from the brain infection, the state is his health care proxy. The state consents for him to have a brain operation.

Because he is a prisoner, the operation is performed by the second year neurosurgery resident, with the third year medical student as first assist. Nearly the entire cerebellum in resected - I'm going to pass on the question of how necessary this was.

On awakening the patient is demonstrated to have a permanent severe cerebellar ataxia - he cannot walk, hold things, raise a cup of coffee to his mouth. He will be dependent on others' care for the rest of his life.

Don't report your family members to the cops unless you really hate them.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:01 PM on July 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh, and dydecker's wrong about the addicitiveness of meth as far as I'm aware. In rat and monkey studies, at least, methamphetamine ties with cocaine as 'most addictive' in the bar-press model, slightly edging out nicotine and by far beating alcohol and the other addictive substances. In fact it appears (in so-called 'discrimination' studies where the animals are punished for misidentifying substances) that the animals can't tell the difference between cocaine and meth; supporting this, their neurochemical actions are very similar, and the main difference is their speed of onset and half life.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:05 PM on July 17, 2005

Response by poster: I said I didn't want this to turn into a debate, but I cant help myself....

ikkyu2: "Nanojath's wrong, as has been documented above: possession of a controlled substance counts as a strike, as an "I'm Feeling Lucky" Google search on [ "three strikes" California law ] points out."

Each of those 150 people was convicted of the 'third strike' BEFORE Prop 32 was passed. Let me clarify, I have no doubt that the three strikes law WOULD NOT apply in her case. Both of her prior convictions were for possession of meth...just possession.

This is an excerpt from an article I found...please read the whole article if you have a second.

Under Proposition 36, the court cannot impose short-term jail time as an additional condition of probation. Instead, the judge can sentence the defendant to 30 days in jail only after he chalks up two separate convictions for nonviolent drug possession and two failed attempts at treatment. This means that sanctions only kick in after the third offense. And after 30 days, well, according to the proposition, the defendant is on his own. He can either clean up, or--if he gets caught again, which, for an addict trying to feed an addiction, is likely--he goes to jail.

The National Drug Court Institute also has lots of information - for example:

The court cannot impose incarceration as a sanction for non-compliance. Moreover, the Proposition reads that if an offender does not “complete” two courses of treatment and is convicted for a third time, he or she may be subject to an immediate jail sentence. However, what it fails to indicate is that the jail sentence that can be imposed is limited to a mere 30 days. The offenders really do not have to “complete” a course of treatment but rather must participate in a course of treatment and if arrested for yet a third offense, only face a 30-day jail sentence.

Thanks again to everyone who responded.
posted by camfys at 1:05 PM on July 17, 2005

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