Compared to many other states, California has somewhat lenient drug laws. For example, simple possession of marijuana up to one ounce (28.5 grams) is not a criminal offense in California, despite being treated as a misdemeanor in many jurisdictions. Nonetheless, lengthy sentences can still be imposed on defendants convicted of serious drug crimes – and in some cases, defendants who are convicted of controlled substance offenses may face mandatory minimum sentencing. It depends on factors like the type of substance involved and the nature of the offense alleged, as the Ventura drug defense lawyers of Bamieh & De Smeth discuss in this article.

CA Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for Controlled Substance Felonies: The “Three Strikes” Law

In 1994, California passed a sentencing law colloquially called the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, or simply the “Three Strikes” law. At the time it was originally enacted, the law established a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison for any defendant convicted of a third felony, or third “strike,” regardless of the nature of the felony.

A large number of third-strike offenders were incarcerated for nonviolent drug-related felonies. To quote a report on the then-new Three Strikes law, issued by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) February 22, 1995, “As of the end of January 1995, there were 4,161 persons in state prison for conviction of a second-strike, and 120 offenders convicted of a third-strike…. Of the offenders convicted of a second-strike, about 775 or approximately 19%, were for a violent or serious offense. The remaining approximately 3,300 persons were convicted of a wide variety of lesser offenses, the largest being possession of controlled substances (815 inmates).” The same report also noted, “Of the third-strike offenders, about 50 of the 120 were convicted of a serious or violent offense. The largest category of offense with 17 cases was possession of controlled substances.”

The Three Strikes law became controversial, and in 2012, Californians voted in support of Proposition 36 (“Prop 36”), which revised the law so that mandatory life sentences would only be imposed for “violent” or “serious” felonies. Though most serious felonies involve crimes like assault, robbery, and manslaughter, rather than drug offenses, several drug crimes are designated “serious felonies” under Cal. Penal Code § 1192.7(c)(1), including “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… or any of the precursors of methamphetamines” (substances used to manufacture meth). Therefore, if a defendant is convicted of selling or distributing cocaine, heroin, meth-making materials, or PCP to a person under the age of 18, and has two prior strikes, he or she will be subject to the Three Strikes sentencing law.

In most cases, California does not have mandatory minimums for drug crimes. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible for the defendant to avoid jail time entirely by participating in a diversion program, such as the deferred entry of judgment program (DEJ), which allows eligible defendants to stay out of jail in return for successfully completing a treatment program.

Once the defendant finishes the program, his or her charges will be dismissed. However, if the defendant fails to complete the program successfully – for example, if he or she gets arrested during the program – the judge will sentence the defendant. Though not all defendants qualify for the DEJ program or similar programs, a Ventura criminal defense lawyer can help eligible defendants get accepted, or look for other ways to reduce the defendant’s sentence.

There are some misdemeanor drug offenses for which minimum sentences may be imposed, though such sentences are significantly shorter than those imposed under the Three Strikes law. For example, if the defendant is convicted of being under the influence of a controlled substance in public, which is a violation of Cal. Health and Safety Code § 11550, the judge will impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days, or about three months. With a few exceptions, this includes:

  • Schedule V Drugs – Cough syrup with less than 200 milligrams of codeine or per 100 milliliters (Robitussin AC)
  • Schedule IV Drugs – Ambien (zolpidem), Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Schedule III Drugs – Ketamine, steroids
  • Other Controlled Substances – Heroin, mescaline, opiates, peyote

Ventura Drug Possession and Distribution Attorneys Are Available

If you or someone you love was arrested and charged with possession, cultivation, manufacture, trafficking, or distribution of prescription pills, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, PCP, Adderall (amphetamine), OxyContin (oxycodone), ecstasy, morphine, LSD, GHB, or other narcotics, the experienced drug crime defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC may be able to help. Our legal team handles misdemeanor and felony cases throughout Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and includes:

To arrange a confidential, free consultation about drug charges in Ventura County or Santa Barbara County, call our law offices immediately at (805) 643-5555.