Statutes of limitations are legal deadlines for the government to file a case against you. If they do not get the case to a judge within a certain amount of time, the charges against you cannot be filed. Each criminal statute has a time limit that the government must follow to bring charges against you. If you previously committed a drug possession crime, or you think you may be charged, it is important to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies for drug possession crimes in California. For a free consultation on your case, or for legal representation, contact the Ventura drug possession lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today.
CA Statute of Limitation on Drug Charges
In California, possession of controlled substances is illegal under California Health and Safety Code § 11350. Most of these possession crimes are punished as a misdemeanor offense for most drugs, except marijuana (which has lighter punishments and changes drastically this coming January). This means that most of these drug possession crimes, such as cocaine possession or prescription drug crimes carry up to one year in jail, plus potential fines and court costs. Marijuana possession is currently punished with up to 6 months in jail for a large amount, and a fine only for a small amount. (The cutoff for a small amount is 28.5 grams.)
In California, crimes that carry potential imprisonment as a penalty have a statute of limitations of 3 years. Under California Penal Code § 801, this means the prosecution of a crime must start within 3 years of the crime’s commission. This applies as long as you are within the state of California. If you leave the state, the statute of limitations is paused or “tolled” until you reenter the state. This can extend the filing deadline by up to 3 years, for a total of 6 years to bring charges against you.
The statute of limitations only creates a deadline for police and prosecutors to file charges against you. This means that they have 3 years to arrest you and charge you with the crime, or to file charges with a court and issue a summons to force you to appear in court. This does not mean that the case must be charged, tried, and completed within 3 years of the offense.
How Does the Statute of Limitations Work for Drug Offenses?
Three years is a long statute of limitations for drug possession charges. In many cases, by the time the 3-year period is over, the drugs are gone, police have no evidence of a defendant’s connection to the drugs, and police may be unable to justify charges. When police and prosecutors enforce drug laws, they usually discover drugs and arrest the person immediately. In many of these cases, the charges will be filed immediately, while the drugs are taken to the lab and tested to confirm they are indeed illegal drugs.
Drug possession is also an “ongoing” crime. This means that you constantly and continually commit a drug possession crime as long as you have the drugs in your possession. Taking possession of drugs, then storing them in a locker for 3 years does not allow the statute of limitations to start running, because you continue to possess the drugs during that entire period. This means police can file charges at any time if you continue to have possession, and the statute of limitations clock will never begin to run.
One of the few situations where police may wait to file drug charges is during large-scale investigations or cases being built against drug trafficking networks. Police, through undercover work or subtle policing strategies, may have enough evidence to file charges during the early stages of an investigation. However, they may hold-off on filing the charges to see if they can build a case against others involved in the trade. They may also wait to see if they can get evidence of stronger charges, such as drug distribution or trafficking charges.
If you are under investigation for drug charges, police may already have enough evidence to file charges against you. It is important to take your case to a criminal defense attorney if you have already been charged with an offense, or think you may be charged.
Ventura, CA Criminal Defense Attorneys
A Ventura criminal defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth represents those charged with crimes in Ventura and the surrounding areas. Our attorneys have decades of experience challenging police evidence, fighting to keep people out of jail, and working to lower potential sentences. For a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (805) 585-5056.