DUI arrests don't always lead to convictions in court. Police officer mistakes, faulty breathalyzers and crime lab errors may get your charges reduced or dismissed. Visit our California DUI page to learn more.
What is California law for illegal use or possession of benzodiazepines?
In California, absent a valid prescription, it is a crime to possess, to use, or to be under the influence of benzodiazepines such as Xanax. These are considered Schedule IV drugs under the Controlled Substances Act and are subject to strict regulation.
Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are the most commonly abused type of prescription drug in the United States. Common drugs of this type include:
A violation of HS 11550 (being under the influence) is a misdemeanor in California. The crime is punishable by:
imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and
A violation of HS 11375 (unlawful possession) can either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of a given case. Either charge can lead to imprisonment for up to a year or even more.
1. What are benzodiazepines?
Benzos are listed as Schedule IV drugs per the Controlled Substances Act. They are minor tranquilizers commonly prescribed for:
drug and alcohol withdrawal, and
The Food and Drug Administration has approved 15 different types of benzos. The most common include:
Benzodiazepines are the most commonly abused prescription drug in the United States.
2. Is it a crime to use benzodiazepines in California?
HSC 11550 is the California statute governing the use of controlled substances and narcotic drugs, including benzos.
Under this statute, it is a crime for a person to:
use a benzodiazepine, and/or
be under the influence of the same.1
However, it is permissible for a person to do either of the above if he/she has a legal prescription for the drug taken.2
Regarding being “under the influence,” Health and Safety Code 11550 only requires that a person is under the influence in any detectable manner. Impairment or other misconduct isn’t necessary to prove an accused is guilty of this charge.3
A violation of HSC 11550 is charged as a misdemeanor in California. The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.4
In addition, a guilty charge can lead to:
up to five years of informal probation,
drug counseling, and
possible community service or labor.
If a party suffers a third conviction of this section within seven years of his first conviction and has refused court-appointed drug treatment, he will be sentenced to a minimum of 180 days in the county jail.5
3. Is it a crime to have possession of these drugs?
HSC 11375 is the California statute governing the following with regards to controlled substances (including benzodiazepines):
possession for sale,
Under this statute, it is a crime for any person to:
possess benzos with the intent to sell them, and/or
Under HS 11375b2, it is also a crime for any person to possess a benzos unless that person has a lawful prescription for the drugs.
The offenses of possession for sale and sale are wobbler offenses in California. This means they can be punished as either a California misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of a given case.
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year. If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years in the county jail or state prison.
A person guilty of possessing a benzos is guilty of either a misdemeanor or an infraction.7
If guilty of a misdemeanor, the defendant can face:
imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
a maximum fine of $1,000.
A defendant guilty of a possession infraction can face a substantial fine.
4. What are the best defenses to drug charges?
A defendant can raise a legal defense if accused of a crime under HSC 11550 or 11375. A successful defense can work to reduce a charge or dismiss one altogether.
Common defenses to HSC 11550 benzos use charges include that the defendant:
was not “under the influence,” and/or
had a valid prescription for the drug.
Common defenses to HSC 11375 benzos possession/sale accusations include that the defendant:
had a lawful prescription for the drug,
did not “possess” the drug (as that term is legally defined), and/or
had no intent to sell the benzos.
5. What is the crime of driving while addicted to a drug, per VC 23152c?
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.