As a Schedule II controlled substance, Vicodin (hydrocodone) is lawful to use and possess in California only with a valid prescription. Illegal possession of Vicodin is usually a misdemeanor, though you may avoid jail and a conviction by doing diversion. Meanwhile, selling or transporting (“trafficking”) Vicodin is always a felony.
|California Vicodin crime
|Maximum jail/prison term (most cases)
|Simple possession – 11350 HS
|Possession for sale – 11351 HS
|Selling/transporting (“trafficking”) – 11352 HS
|Being under the influence – 11550 HS
|Driving under the influence – 23152f VC
Below our California criminal defense attorneys provide an overview of the state Vicodin laws including potential penalties and defenses:
- 1. Possessing Vicodin (11350 HS)
- 2. Possessing Vicodin for sale (11351 HS)
- 3. Transporting or selling Vicodin (11352 HS)
- 4. Being under the influence of Vicodin (11550 HS)
- 5. Driving under the influence of Vicodin (23152f VC)
- 6. How to fight criminal charges
- Additional resources
1. Possessing Vicodin (11350 HS)
California Health and Safety Code 11350 HS outlaws possessing drugs for personal use – abbreviated as “simple possession.” This includes prescription drugs such as Vicodin unless you are using the drugs in accordance with a valid prescription.
You can be convicted of possessing Vicodin without a lawful prescription if the D.A. can show that you either had:
- actual possession, such as knowingly carrying the Vicodin in your hand or backpack; or
- constructive possession, such as knowingly keeping the Vicodin in your medicine cabinet or glove compartment; or
- joint possession, such as sharing the Vicodin with at least one other person like a spouse or roommate.
Unlawful Vicodin possession is generally a misdemeanor in California carrying up to 1 year in jail and/or $1,000 in fines. However, you may be eligible for a full dismissal without doing any jail if you complete a drug diversion program such as:
Unlawful Vicodin possession becomes a felony if you have prior convictions of certain specific offenses such as murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or any registrable sex crime. The penalties are up to $10,000 and a jail sentence of:
- 16 months,
- 2 years, or
- 3 years.1
See our related article, possessing a controlled substance while armed (HS 11370.1).
2. Possessing Vicodin for sale (11351 HS)
California Health and Safety Code 11351 HS outlaws possessing drugs for the purpose of selling them.2 Typical evidence the D.A. uses to show your intent to sell Vicodin includes:
- large quantities of drugs found in your home or car, and it is more than any doctor would lawfully prescribe to one patient;
- large amounts of cash found on your person or in your home that you presumably obtained by selling drugs on the black market;
- a gun found on your person or home that you may use as self-defense during drug deals;
- video or an eyewitness account of you in an area known by police as a place drug sales occur.3
Possession of Vicodin for sale is a felony carrying two, three, or four years in California State Prison and up to $20,000.4
3. Transporting or selling Vicodin (11352 HS)
California Health and Safety Code 11352 HS outlaws trafficking drugs, which is a broad crime. To be convicted of trafficking Vicodin, the D.A. needs to show that you either:
- transported Vicodin,
- sold Vicodin,
- gave away Vicodin,
- imported Vicodin into California,
- furnished Vicodin,
- administered Vicodin, or
- offered to do any of the above.
Trafficking Vicodin is a felony carrying three, four, or five years in California State Prison.5 Though if the Vicodin was taken across more than two county lines – and you had the intent to sell the Vicodin at the destination – the penalty becomes three, six, or nine years in prison.6
4. Being under the influence of Vicodin (11550 HS)
California Health and Safety Code 11550 HS outlaws being under the influence of drugs.7 With regard to prescription drugs like Vicodin, the D.A. has to prove the following for you to be convicted of being “under the influence:”
- your physical or mental abilities are impaired “in any detectable manner;” and
- drugs caused your impairment; and
- you do not have a current or valid prescription, or else you used the drugs inconsistent with the prescription (such as ingesting too much).8
Being under the influence of Vicodin is a misdemeanor, carrying up to one year in jail. However in most cases, you can avoid jail and a conviction through a diversion program.9
5. Driving under the influence of Vicodin (23152f VC)
California Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC outlaws driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of narcotics.10 You can be convicted of driving while impaired by Vicodin if the D.A. proves that the Vicodin 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.”11
Driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is a misdemeanor in most cases and treated like driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). First-time convictions carry up to six months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, a driver’s license suspension, and DUI school.12
6. How to fight criminal charges
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have represented literally thousands of people charged with Vicodin crimes. In our experience, the following seven defenses have proven very effective with prosecutors, judges, and juries in California:
1) You had a valid prescription
Having a current and valid Vicodin prescription is a full defense to illegal possession charges as long as the drugs are yours and you have no more than the prescribed amount. Note that if you have more than one current Vicodin prescription from different doctors, you face separate charges for prescription fraud (“doctor shopping”).
2) An illegal search and seizure surfaced the Vicodin
When police find evidence from a search that violates your Fourth Amendment rights – such as by not getting a search warrant when one was required – we can ask the judge to throw out that illegally-obtained evidence. Depending on the case, the D.A. may not have enough evidence left over to convict you.13
3) Police officers entrapped you
If you bought or sold Vicodin from an undercover police officer, we may be able to argue you were entrapped. This means that the officer coerced you into breaking the law (such as by threats), and you had no predisposition to break the law. If the court agrees that you would never have bought or sold the Vicodin but for the duress the police placed you under, the case should be dismissed.
4) You did not know about the Vicodin being there
For you to be convicted of possession, you have to be aware of the drugs being there. So one way we can fight these allegations is to show that the drugs may have been planted on you or in your home or car without your knowledge.
5) Vicodin was not the cause of your impairment
Police sometimes wrongly arrest people for DUID or being under the influence of drugs when the actual reason they appear impaired is a diabetic coma or other medical condition that mimics intoxication. In these cases, we use our clients’ medical records and call upon medical experts to show the D.A. that the Vicodin was not the reason for the impairment.
6) Someone lied about you
A common defense to drug charges is that someone is falsely accusing you. So we pore over the accuser’s text and voice communications for evidence of their lying and motivations to incriminate you.
7) There was no intent to sell the Vicodin
When you are facing charges for possessing Vicodin for sale, it would be a legal victory if we persuade the D.A. to drop it down to simple possession. We would try to convince the prosecutors that if they went to trial, they would lack sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to sell the drugs and not merely use them recreationally.
When building our defense in Vicodin law cases, we compile such evidence as eyewitness testimony, surveillance video, and expert witnesses if necessary.
For help or more information beyond California Vicodin laws, refer to the following:
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA) – A 12-step program to overcome drug addiction.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) – 24/7 treatment referral service.
- Vicodin 5 Mg-500 Mg Tablet – Uses, Side Effects, and More – WebMD article about the drug’s properties and treatment.
- Vicodin – U.S. Food and Drug Administration fact-sheet on Vicodin.
- Hydrocodone – Drug Enforcement Administration overview of Vicodin.
- California Health and Safety Code 11350 HS. See also California Health and Safety Code 11372 HS. California Penal Code 1210.1 PC. California Penal Code 1000 PC.
- California Health and Safety Code 11351 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11351.5 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11352 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11550 HS.
- People v. Enriquez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661.
- See note 7.
- California Vehicle Code 23152f VC.
- See note 8.
- See note 10.
- See People v. Mooring (Cal.App. 2017)