Writing a False Prescription in California

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 What Is a False Prescription in California?

A false prescription in California refers to the act of creating, distributing, or trying to fill a medical prescription that is not legitimate. This might be done through forgery, alteration of valid prescriptions, or using fake prescription pads.


Forgery involves creating a counterfeit prescription or signing a medical professional’s name without their knowledge or consent.

Scenario: Let’s take the case of John, a college student. John’s friends tell him about the euphoric effects of a particular painkiller. Unable to get a legitimate prescription, John decides to create a counterfeit one. He finds a blank prescription sheet, fills it out, and attempts to imitate the signature of a known physician from a local clinic. When he goes to a pharmacy to have the prescription filled, the pharmacist, who is familiar with the doctor’s handwriting, becomes suspicious and contacts the doctor, leading to the discovery of the forgery.

Alteration of Valid Prescriptions

This method involves taking a legitimate prescription and modifying some of its elements. Changes could be made to the drug quantity, the drug itself, or the number of refills, among others.

Scenario: Amanda recently had a dental procedure and received a prescription for a painkiller with instructions to take it for three days. Finding the effects of the painkiller relieving not just for her dental pain but also for her day-to-day stress, Amanda decides she wants more. She takes her valid prescription and subtly changes the number “3” to an “8,” hoping to get an extended supply of the medication. However, when she tries to refill her prescription, the pharmacist checks the dentist’s original electronic prescription order and discovers the discrepancy.

Using Fake Prescription Pads

Some individuals resort to using counterfeit prescription pads. These fake pads might be purchased illegally or printed using templates found online. They closely resemble genuine prescription pads but lack specific security features or identifiers.

Scenario: Brian is a graphic designer with detailed knowledge about printing and paper quality. Hearing about the high street value of certain medications, Brian decides to capitalize on his skills. He designs a prescription pad that closely resembles that of a local hospital and prints several sheets.

Using these, he writes prescriptions for various controlled substances, intending to sell the drugs for profit. He visits multiple pharmacies to avoid suspicion. One day, he hands a prescription to a pharmacist who notices the absence of a required security watermark on the paper. The pharmacist discreetly contacts the authorities, leading to Brian’s arrest.

In each of these scenarios, the key takeaway is that prescription fraud is a complex crime that involves intricate methods to deceive medical professionals and pharmacists. However, modern checks and balances, including electronic prescription monitoring and advanced security features on prescription pads, make detection increasingly likely. Anyone attempting such fraud runs not only a high risk of detection but also severe legal consequences when caught.

What Happens if a False Prescription Is Written?

The specific penalties for prescription fraud in California depend on whether the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. This is determined under California prescription fraud laws by the facts and circumstances of the case and the defendant’s prior criminal record.

As a misdemeanor, prescription fraud is punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000. As a felony, prescription fraud is punishable by 16 months, 2 or 3 years in the state prison, and/or a maximum fine of $20,000.

Additionally, prescription fraud may result in probation, which may include conditions such as drug testing, counseling, community service, or restitution. Some defendants may also be eligible for drug diversion programs. This allows them to avoid jail time and have their charges dismissed if they complete a drug treatment program.

Prescription fraud is a serious crime that can have severe consequences. If you or someone you know is facing charges for this offense, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Can I Fight a Charge of Writing a False Prescription With a Defense?

Yes, with the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer, several defenses can be employed based on the specifics of your case.

Which Defenses Against Prescription Fraud Exist?

There are various defenses to prescription fraud.

Lack of Knowledge

Lack of knowledge pertains to a defendant’s claim that they were unaware that the prescription they presented or acted upon was false. For this defense to be valid, the defendant must convincingly argue that they had genuine reasons to believe that the prescription was legitimate.

Example: Maria, a caregiver, is given a prescription by her elderly patient’s son to get medications for his mother. Trusting him, Maria takes it to the pharmacy. It turns out the prescription is forged. If Maria genuinely didn’t know and had no reason to suspect the prescription’s authenticity, she might use the “Lack of Knowledge” defense.

No Intent to Commit Fraud

The no intent to commit fraud defense revolves around the absence of malice or deceptive intention. Essentially, the accused did not set out with the intention to deceive anyone or gain unlawfully.

Example: Sam, a father, is given an old prescription by his wife to refill their daughter’s asthma medication. Unbeknownst to Sam, the doctor had switched the medication to a different one during their last visit. The pharmacist identifies the discrepancy, and Sam faces a potential prescription fraud charge. Sam could argue that he had no intention of committing fraud; he simply acted on outdated information.

False Accusation

False accusation is when the defendant claims that they have been wrongfully accused of a crime. This can happen due to mistaken identity, misinterpretation of events, or deliberate accusations.

Example: Nina, a pharmacist, fills a prescription for a customer. Later, she is accused of knowingly filling a forged prescription. However, the real culprit might be another employee at the same pharmacy who had been committing the fraud, and the forged prescription got mixed up with genuine ones. Nina can use the false accusation defense, especially if she has a track record of diligent work and can prove she wasn’t responsible for the error.

Insufficient Evidence

The insufficient evidence defense is used when the prosecution cannot provide enough compelling evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.

Example: Tom is arrested for allegedly forging multiple prescriptions. However, the only evidence against him is testimonies from people who claim they saw him near a pharmacy multiple times. The prosecution does not have CCTV footage, the alleged counterfeit prescription pads, or any other tangible evidence. Tom’s attorney might argue that merely being near a pharmacy is not a crime and that the evidence against him is insufficient for a conviction.

Each defense presents its unique challenges and nuances. The success of any defense in a court of law largely depends on the circumstances of the case and the skills of the defense attorney. If faced with such charges, seeking an experienced attorney is paramount.

Can I Use the Same Defenses as if I Were Defending Myself Against a Charge of Possessing a Controlled Substance?

While some defenses overlap, like lack of knowledge or possession, defending against a false prescription charge is different from defending a charge of possession of a controlled substance. Each crime has unique elements that must be proved for a conviction.

What if I Genuinely Believed That I Had the Power to Sign? Can I Raise That as a Defense?

Yes, you can argue that you had a genuine belief that you had the authority to sign. However, this would need substantial evidence to support such a claim, like documentation or testimonies.

Sentencing & Penalties for Writing False Prescriptions

Penalties vary based on the nature and severity of the crime. It can be classified as a “wobbler,” meaning it can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor charges often lead to jail time, fines, and probation. Felony charges carry heavier penalties, including state prison time.

How Does the Prosecution Choose Whether to File a Felony or Misdemeanor Charge Against the Defendant?

The decision to file a felony or misdemeanor often depends on the specifics of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. Factors like the amount of drugs obtained using the false prescription, the method of forgery, and prior convictions can influence this decision.

How Can the Defense Establish That I Used a Falsified Signature?

The defense would need to present evidence or testimonies that indicate the signature was not yours or that it was used without your knowledge or consent.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Represent Me?

Facing charges related to false prescriptions can be overwhelming and legally intricate. Consult with an attorney who understands California’s drug laws. An experienced criminal lawyer can help navigate the legal system, present defenses, and possibly negotiate for reduced charges or alternative sentencing options.

If you’re looking for representation, consider reaching out to a California drug lawyer through LegalMatch.

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