California Drug Laws Involving Hydrocodone ("Vicodin")

Vicodin (hydrocodone) is a frequently prescribed pain-killer. But you face criminal charges under California Vicodin laws if you possess or use Vicodin outside the scope of a valid prescription, or if you sell or intend to hydrocodone on the black market.

The key California laws that apply to Vicodin (hydrocodone) include:

The following chart summarizes the penalties for various crimes involving hydrocodone in California:

California Vicodin Crime

Code Section

Type of Offense

Penalties

Eligible for Drug Diversion?

Possession of hydrocodone (Vicodin) for personal use

HS 11350

Misdemeanor (for most defendants)

Up to 1 year in county jail; up to $20,000 fine

Yes

Possession of hydrocodone (Vicodin) for sale

HS 11351

Felony

2, 3 or 4 years in prison; up to $20,000 fine

No

Sale/transportation for sale of hydrocodone (Vicodin)

HS 11352

Felony

3 to 9 years in prison; up to $20,000 fine

No

Under the influence of hydrocodone (Vicodin)

HS 11550

Misdemeanor

Up to 1 year in county jail; up to $1,000 fine

Yes

Driving under the influence of hydrocodone (Vicodin)

VC 23152(e)

Misdemeanor (in most cases)

Driver's license suspension; up to $390 fine; 3 to 5 years DUI probation

No

California Vicodin Crime

Penalties

HS 11350 possession of hydrocodone (Vicodin) for personal use without a prescription

Misdemeanor penalties: up to 1 year in county jail; up to $20,000 fine

HS 11351 possession of hydrocodone (Vicodin) for sale

Felony penalties: 2, 3 or 4 years in prison; up to $20,000 fine

HS 11352 sale/transportation for sale of hydrocodone (Vicodin)

Felony penalties: 3 to 9 years in prison; up to $20,000 fine

HS 11550 under the influence of hydrocodone (Vicodin)

Misdemeanor penalties: up to 1 year in county jail; up to $1,000 fine

VC 23152(e) driving under the influence of hydrocodone (Vicodin)

Misdemeanor penalties: driver's license suspension; up to $390 in fines; 3-5 years of DUI probation

In this article, our California Vicodin and drug crimes defense attorneys address the following frequently asked questions about California's Vicodin laws:

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. What are the Penalties for Violating California Vicodin Laws?

California Vicodin laws provide for serious penalties for using, possessing or selling hydrocodone (Vicodin) outside of the scope of a valid prescription.

The most important of these hydrocodone laws include:

1.1. What are the penalties for HS 11350 personal possession of hydrocodone/Vicodin?

You violate Health and Safety Code 11350, California's personal possession of a controlled substance law, anytime you possess hydrocodone for personal use without a valid prescription.1

And as Santa Ana hydrocodone and drug crimes defense attorney John Murray2 explains,

"You can be guilty of simple possession of hydrocodone whether you possess hydrocodone in its pure form, in Vicodin or in another drug combination."

Prescription-pad
A prescription is a defense to Vicodin possession charges, but only if you possessed Vicodin/hydrocodone in compliance with the prescription.

Having a valid prescription is not necessarily enough to excuse your hydrocodone possession. You must possess hydrocodone in strict compliance of this prescription. This means that

  1. possessing more of the narcotic than is authorized in the prescription,
  2. possessing more than one prescription, or
  3. possessing someone else's prescription

are still violations of this California Vicodin law.

Simple possession of hydrocodone (Vicodin) is a California misdemeanor for most defendants. The penalties may include up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to twenty thousand dollars ($20,000).3

However, you will face California felony penalties--including two (2) to four (4) years in jail--for personal possession of Vicodin you have a prior conviction on your record for either:

  1. any of a small list of especially serious felonies, including murder, sexually violent offenses, sex crimes against a child under 14, or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or
  2. a sex crime that subjects you to California's sex offender registration requirement.4

Fortunately, drug diversion is typically available for people convicted of violating California's hydrocodone simple possession law.  California "drug diversion" allows eligible defendants to serve their time in drug rehabilitation in lieu of incarceration.  Drug diversion is permissible under

1.2. What are the penalties for HS 11351 possession for sale of hydrocodone/Vicodin?

When you possess or purchase hydrocodone for sale, you violate Health and Safety Code 11351 HS, California's “possession or purchase of a controlled substance for sale” law. 

And because this California Vicodin offense involves the intent to sell Vicodin--and not just the intent to consume it personally--it is punished more severely than simple possession, discussed above.

Vicodin-tablets-beside-bottle
Possession of Vicodin for sale is one of the more serious hydrocodone/Vicodin crimes.

Possessing hydrocodone for sale is a felony, punishable by two, three or four years in county jail and the same maximum $20,000 fine.5 

And unlike a personal possession conviction, a conviction for possessing or purchasing hydrocodone for sale does not allow you to participate in a drug diversion program.

However, if your California criminal defense lawyer can persuade the prosecutor, judge or jury that you actually only possessed the Vicodin for your own personal use--and not to sell it--drug diversion would still be available with the reduced personal possession charge.

1.3. What are the penalties for HS 11352 sale / transportation of hydrocodone/Vicodin?

Health and Safety Code 11352 sale or transportation of a controlled substance is the most serious of these California hydrocodone-related offenses.  

If you are convicted of either selling Vicodin or transporting it in order to sell it, you face California felony penalties, including three, four or five years jail and a maximum $20,000 fine.6

A conviction for transporting hydrocodone across more than two county lines with intent to sell it subjects you to three, six or nine years in prison and the same maximum fine.7

And unless your attorney can arrange a plea bargain to a lesser charge of personal possession, you will not be entitled to participate in drug diversion.

Vicodin-tablets-next-to-penny
Sale or transportation of hydrocodone is a felony.

It is also extremely important to note that a violation of any of these California Vicodin laws—HS 11350 simple possession of hydrocodone, HS 11351 possession for sale of hydrocodone or HS 11352 sale/transportation of hydrocodone --may have serious immigration consequences, including your removal or deportation, if you are a legal immigrant or alien.8

1.4. What are the penalties for HS 11550 under the influence of hydrocodone/Vicodin?

If you are under the influence of pure hydrocodone, Vicodin or any other hydrocodone-containing substance--AND you did not use the narcotic in connection and compliance with a valid prescription--you violate Health & Safety Code 11550 HS, California's law against being under the influence of a controlled substance.9

You are "under the influence" of hydrocodone for the purpose of this California Vicodin law if the drug has impaired your physical or mental abilities "in any detectable manner".10 

HS 11550 being under the influence of Vicodin is a California misdemeanor, with a maximum county jail sentence of one (1) year and a maximum fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000).11

Like simple possession of hydrocodone, this offense is eligible for drug diversion.

1.5. What are the penalties for VC 23152(e) driving under the influence of hydrocodone/Vicodin?

You violate California's driving under the influence of drugs law (VC 23152(e)) if you drive under the influence of Vicodin—including Vicodin you have taken in compliance with a valid prescription.12

Woman-being-pulled-over-for-DUI
DUI of Vicodin can be a crime even if you only took Vicodin in accordance with a prescription.

Most convictions for DUI of Vicodin are misdemeanors. A first-time DUI of hydrocodone may not lead to jail time but will subject you to penalties that may include:

  • Suspension of your driver's license;
  • Up to $390 in base fines (the total amount may be higher);
  • Required DUI school; and/or
  • 3-5 years of DUI probation.

Drug diversion is not available in connection with driving under the influence of hydrocodone/Vicodin.

You drive "under the influence" of hydrocodone when the drug has "so far affected the nervous system, the brain, or muscles as to impair to an appreciable degree the ability to operate a vehicle in a manner like that of an ordinarily prudent and cautious person in full possession of his faculties.13

Even if you have a valid prescription for Vicodin, it will likely come with a warning that states that this narcotic may impair your ability to drive a car. This is considered enough notice that driving under the influence of Vicodin (even lawfully prescribed Vicodin) is a crime.

2. What Legal Defenses Can I Use to Fight California Vicodin (Hydrocodone) Charges?

Fortunately, there are a variety of legal defenses to California hydrocodone-related charges that your California drug crimes defense attorney could present on your behalf.  

Law_20books_20gavel-optimized
A drug crimes defense attorney can help craft the strongest legal defense to hydrocodone charges.

These defenses will, of course, vary, depending on the circumstances of your case.  However, the following are some that commonly arise in connection with California drug offenses:

  • Your use and/or possession of Vicodin were consistent with a valid prescription (but this won't apply to prescriptions obtained through prescription fraud or doctor shopping);
  • You were not driving under the influence of Vicodin but were instead suffering from fatigue, illness, nervousness or some other explanation unrelated to drug use at the time of your arrest;
  • Innocence / mistaken identity (the illegally possessed hydrocodone actually belonged to someone else, but the police jumped to the incorrect conclusion that it was yours);
  • The police violated California's search and seizure laws (perhaps because they discovered your hydrocodone when they had no legal right to search you or because they seized the Vicodin even though it was located in an area that was outside the scope of a valid California search warrant); and/or
  • The officers otherwise committed police misconduct by engaging in unethical or illegal behavior (perhaps luring you or coercing you into selling or transporting Vicodin--a type of misconduct that allows you to present the legal defense of entrapment).

3. What is the Difference between Legal and Illegal Use of Hydrocodone in California?

Hydrocodone (commonly referred to as "Vicodin", "Vikes", "Hydro" and "Norco") is a widely prescribed—and frequently abused--drug.  First manufactured in Germany in 1920, it was approved for sale in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") in 1943.14

Hydrocodone is used legally a pain reliever and cough suppressant. It is commonly available in capsules, tablets and syrup. Hydrocodone is similar to codeine, but it is much more potent.  

Prescription-drug-bottle
Vicodin/hydrocodone can be either an illegal controlled substance or a legal prescription medication.

Most of the time, hydrocodone is mixed with other drugs such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. In fact, most people interchangeably refer to hydrocodone as "Vicodin,” which is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen.

At the same time, hydrocodone (when taken alone) is listed under the United States Controlled Substances Act as a "Schedule II" drug.15 "Schedule II" drugs are those that

  1. have a high potential for abuse,
  2. have a currently accepted medical use--but with strict limitations, and
  3. can lead to severe psychological and/or physical dependence if abused.16

This is due in large part to the calming, euphoric effects that come with Vicodin/hydrocodone use. It's because of these effects--and the fact that Vicodin is relatively easy to obtain though prescription fraud or through a doctor who is willing to break the law by prescribing Vicodin to an addict--that hydrocodone is frequently used illegally.

And despite common misperception, people die more frequently from abusing prescription drugs like hydrocodone/Vicodin than from abusing illicit drugs.17

Call us for help...

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If you or a loved one is charged with a California hydrocodone (Vicodin) crime and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

Additionally, our Nevada criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions about Nevada's drug possession laws.  


Legal References:

  1. Health and Safety Code 11350 HS – -- Possession of designated controlled substances [including hydrocodone/Vicodin without a prescription]; punishment and fine. (“(a) Except as otherwise provided in this division, every person who possesses (1) any controlled substance specified in subdivision (b), (c), (e), or paragraph (1) of subdivision (f) of Section 11054, specified in paragraph (14), (15), or (20) of subdivision (d) of Section 11054, or specified in subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 11055, or specified in subdivision (h) of Section 11056, or (2) any controlled substance classified in Schedule III, IV, or V which is a narcotic drug [including codeine, unless upon the written prescription of a physician, dentist, podiatrist, or veterinarian licensed to practice in this state, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, except that such person shall 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.”)
  2. Santa Ana Vicodin and drug crimes defense attorney John Murray represents clients accused of violating California's Vicodin-related laws throughout the Los Angeles County courts and Orange County courts. He has a particular focus on charges of driving under the influence of hydrocodone.
  3. Health and Safety Code 11350 HS – -- Possession of designated controlled substances [including hydrocodone/Vicodin without a prescription]; punishment and fine, endnote 1 above.
  4. Same.
  5. Health & Safety Code 11351 HS – Possession or purchase for sale of designated controlled substances [including hydrocodone (Vicodin)]; punishment. (“Except as otherwise provided in this division, every person who possesses for sale or purchases for purposes of sale (1) any controlled substance specified in subdivision (b), (c), or (e) of Section 11054, specified in paragraph (14), (15), or (20) of subdivision (d) of Section 11054, or specified in subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 11055, or specified in subdivision (h) of Section 11056, or (2) any controlled substance classified in Schedule III, IV, or V which is a narcotic drug [including hydrocodone], shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for two, three, or four years.”)
  6. Health & Safety Code 11351 HS -- Transportation, sale, giving away, etc., of designated controlled substances [including hydrocodone/Vicodin]; punishment; definition; prosecution for aiding and abetting. (“(a) Except as otherwise provided in this division, every person who transports, imports into this state, sells, furnishes, administers, or gives away, or offers to transport, import into this state, sell, furnish, administer, or give away, or attempts to import into this state or transport (1) any controlled substance specified in subdivision (b), (c), or (e), or paragraph (1) of subdivision (f) of Section 11054, specified in paragraph (14), (15), or (20) of subdivision (d) of Section 11054, or specified in subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 11055, or specified in subdivision (h) of Section 11056, or (2) any controlled substance classified in Schedule III, IV, or V which is a narcotic drug [including hydrocodone], unless upon the written prescription of a physician, dentist, podiatrist, or veterinarian licensed to practice in this state, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for three, four, or five years. (b) Notwithstanding the penalty provisions of subdivision (a), any person who transports any controlled substances specified in subdivision (a) within this state from one county to another noncontiguous county shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for three, six, or nine years. (c) For purposes of this section, "transports" means to transport for sale.”)
  7. Same.
  8. 8 U.S.C. 1227 -- Deportable aliens. ("(a) Classes of deportable aliens. Any alien (including an alien crewman) in and admitted to the United States shall, upon the order of the Attorney General, be removed if the alien is within one or more of the following classes of deportable aliens. . . . (2) Criminal offenses. . . . (B) Controlled substances. (i) Conviction. Any alien who at any time after admission has been convicted of a violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of Title 21), other than a single offense involving possession for one's own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana, is deportable.”) This means that deportation or removal is possible for immigrants convicted of violating the major California hydrocodone laws.
  9. Health & Safety Code 11550 HS – Under the influence of [hydrocodone/Vicodin]. (“(a) A person shall not use, or be under the influence of any controlled substance that is (1) specified in subdivision (b), (c), or (e), or paragraph (1) of subdivision (f) of Section 11054, specified in paragraph (14), (15), (21), (22), or (23) of subdivision (d) of Section 11054, specified in subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 11055, or specified in paragraph (1) or (2) of subdivision (d) or in paragraph (3) of subdivision (e) of Section 11055, or (2) a narcotic drug classified in Schedule III, IV, or V [includes hydrocodone], except when administered by or under the direction of a person licensed by the state to dispense, prescribe, or administer controlled substances. It shall be the burden of the defense to show that it comes within the exception. A person convicted of violating this subdivision is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be sentenced to serve a term of not more than one year in a county jail. The court may also place a person convicted under this subdivision on probation for a period not to exceed five years.”)
  10. People v. Enriquez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661, 665.  ("The term "under the influence" differs for the purposes of section 23152, subdivision (a) and Health and Safety Code, section 11550. "To be 'under the influence' within the meaning of the Vehicle Code, the ... drug(s) [in this case, hydrocodone] must have so far affected the nervous system, the brain, or muscles as to impair to an appreciable degree the ability to operate a vehiclein a manner like that of an ordinarily prudent and cautious person in full possession of his faculties. [Citations.] In contrast, 'being under the influence' within the meaning of Health and Safety Code section 11550 merely requires that the person be under the influence in any detectable manner. The symptoms of being under the influence within the meaning of that statute are not confined to those commensurate with misbehavior, nor to those which demonstrate impairment of physical or mental ability.")
  11. Health & Safety Code 11550 HS – Under the influence of [hydrocodone/Vicodin], endnote 9 above.
  12. Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC – Driving under the influence of drugs [including hydrocodone/Vicodin]. (“(e) It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”)
  13. People v. Enriquez, endnote 10 above.
  14. History of Vicodin.
  15. Health & Safety Code 11055 HS – Schedule II drugs [includes hydrocodone].
  16. 21 U.S.C. Section 812 -- The United States Controlled Substances Act.
  17. Legal Drugs Kill Far More Than Illegal, Florida Says, The New York Times, June 14, 2008.

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