Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
Different states have three primary approaches as to how much cocaine it takes to trigger felony charges. Some states treat the possession of any amount of cocaine, even very small amounts, as a felony. Other states have a specific threshold amount (such as 500 milligrams in New York) that makes it a felony. A third set of states (including California) treats possession for personal use as a misdmeanor, but sales and trafficking offenses as felonies.
Most states will impose harsher and harsher penalties as the amount of cocaine increases.
For example, Illinois law says that the possession of less than 15 grams of cocaine is a Class 4 felony punishable by a prison term of one to three years. But once the amount of cocaine rises above 15 grams, the offense becomes a Class 1 felony with the following criminal penalties:
Some jurisdictions say that 500 milligrams of cocaine is an approximate threshold between misdemeanor and felony cocaine charges. For example, New York law says that the possession of less than 500 milligrams of cocaine is a misdemeanor, while the possession of 500 milligrams or more is a felony offense.
Further, certain other jurisdictions may file harsher criminal charges against a person as the amount of cocaine increases. For example, if a person is in possession of large amounts of cocaine, the state may file drug trafficking charges as opposed to simple possession charges.
Note that people accused of a cocaine offense can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that they were:
In many jurisdictions, no. Drug laws in most jurisdictions throughout the U.S. say that crimes involving cocaine are felony offenses (as opposed to misdemeanors). This is true regardless of the amount of cocaine involved.
Examples of drug offenses involving crack cocaine include:
While the amount of cocaine does not really affect how a charge is filed, the amount may affect the severity or harshness of a sentence.
In other words, the amount of cocaine will usually not have an impact on whether a charge is filed as a misdemeanor or a felony. However, the amount may impact the severity of a defendant’s prison sentence.
As an example, the Illinois laws regarding cocaine possession are outlined above. In general, the greater the amount of cocaine a defendant has in his/her possession, the more severe the party’s prison term if convicted.1
A few state laws do use the amount of cocaine involved in a case to help determine how drug charges are filed. This is especially true in cocaine possession cases.
For example, under New York’s cocaine laws, if a person is found in possession of less than 500 milligrams of cocaine, the offense is charged as a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.2
But as the amount of cocaine in a person’s possession increases, possession becomes a felony offense (from a Class D felony to a Class A felony) with increased penalties. For example, the possession of:
Yes. As the amount of cocaine increases in a given case, some states may decide to file a type of drug trafficking or sale of cocaine charge as opposed to a possession charge.
An example is Washington State. Washington law says that simple possession of a small amount of cocaine is considered a Class C felony punishable by:
But when anything other than a very small amount of cocaine is recovered, the State will often charge an accused with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (which is a more serious crime than drug possession). The penalties increase to a Class B felony punishable by:
California law says that the simple possession (for personal use) of cocaine is a misdemeanor offense punishable by:
Fortunately, a conviction for personally possessing cocaine may allow some defendants to participate in a California drug diversion program.10 Further, California drug courts may allow some offenders (for example, victims of physical dependence) to participate in drug treatment in lieu of custody time.
But possessing any amount of cocaine in California for the purposes of selling it is a felony punishable by up to 4 years in jail or prison.11 Moreoever, selling, transporting for sales, trafficking or manufacturing narcotics are all felony offenses in California that can carry stiff prison sentences.
Yes. Criminal defense attorneys draw upon several defense strategies to help defendants challenge cocaine and illegal drug charges.
For example, a drug crime lawyer may argue that a defendant:
Note that most criminal defense lawyers and law offices offer free consultations. This means you can receive initial legal advice at no cost.
Also see our page on How many years in jail for drug possession?
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, Court TV, 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.
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