Possession Of Controlled Substance

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Possession of a Controlled Substance California

Elements of Possession in California

When charged with possession of a controlled substance, the prosecution must prove:

  • You unlawfully possessed a controlled substance,
  • You knew of its presence,
  • You knew of its designation as a controlled substance,
  • The drug is listed as a controlled substance in the Health and Safety Code, and
  • There was a usable amount of the controlled substance.

The prosecution must prove all of the above-mentioned elements beyond a reasonable doubt. If any of the elements are not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, then the defendant must be found not guilty.

Types of Possession

Under California law there are two kinds of possession, “actual” possession, and “constructive” possession 1. Two or more people may have “joint” possession of an item at the same time 2.

  • Actual Possession
    You have actual possession when you have physical control over something. This can be done by having it on your body, in a pocket of clothing, or in something you are holding, such as a purse, briefcase, or backpack.
  • Constructive Possession
    You have constructive possession when something is not immediately accessible to you, but you have control or the right to control over a thing 3. You have direct control over something if it is in your house or car; or you can have indirect control over something if another person is holding it for you 4.
  • Joint Possession
    Two or more people may collectively have actual or constructive possession of something. This would be considered joint possession. For example, Jon shares marijuana with Ralph. While smoking a joint together, Jon and Ralph both possess the marijuana, even though it is Jon’s. Rudy keeps his heroin in a jar in the living room of his home. Jon’s girlfriend that lives with him knows the heroin is in the jar, but doesn’t make Jon get rid of it. Since Jon and his girlfriend both control the living room, they have joint constructive possession.


Knowledge is an essential element the prosecution must prove in the crime of possession 5. You had knowledge of the controlled substance’s presence. You knew of its nature as a controlled substance.

Usable Amount

A usable amount of a substance means that it is a enough to be used as a controlled substance 6. The amount possessed does not require that, if used, the substance would cause the user to get high, or feel the effect that is expected from the particular substance, referred to as the “narcotic effect.”

What Is a Controlled Substance?

A controlled substance is a drug, chemical, or substance that has possession, manufacture, or use regulated by the United States Controlled Substances Act. Under California law, it is also illegal to possess prescription medication without a valid prescription. However, if you have a valid prescription for a “controlled substance,” you cannot be convicted of the crime of possession of a controlled substance.

These substances are controlled and regulated because of their risk of addiction, abuse, physical and mental harm, death, and the dangers from actions of those under the influence of these substances.

Call (800) 922-6989 to Schedule Your Free Case Review

If you have been charged with possession of a controlled substance, it is vital that you have legal representation that specializes in criminal defense. West Coast Defense is led by an experienced criminal defense lawyers who has successfully represented clients throughout Southern California. We are ready to help you too.

Call (800) 922-6989 to schedule a free consultation.

1. People v. Barnes (1997) 57 Cal.App.4th 552, 555 
2. Judicial Council Of California Criminal Jury Instruction 2502 
3. People v. Barnes (1997) 57 Cal.App.4th 552, 555 
4. CALCRIM 2304 
5. People v. Horn (1960) 187 Cal.App.2d 68, 74 
6. People v. Rubacalba, 6 Cal. 4th 62, 64, 859 P.2d 708, 709 (1993)

The Winning Defense Team

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