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Prescription Drug Crime Defenses

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What are Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs are intended to be issued and taken under the authority of an authorized doctor. These types of drugs cannot be in someone’s possession without a valid prescription that was obtained without the use of fraud or through a pill mill. Also, it is unlawful for anyone in legal possession of prescription drugs to sell them. There are various types of prescription drugs, including:

  • Pain medications;
  • Blood pressure medications;
  • Diabetes medications; and/or
  • Various other types of medications.

Unlike over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs are generally sold in hospital or pharmacy settings. They often contain special instructions to prevent injury and to help their effectiveness.

What are Some Common Prescription Drug Crimes?

Some common prescription drug crimes include:

  • Illegal possession of prescription drugs;
  • Illegal sale or resale of prescription drugs;
  • Altering prescription drugs;
  • Tampering with prescription drug labels;
  • Stealing prescription notes;
  • Forging a doctor’s signature for a prescription;
  • Illegally using someone else’s prescription; and/or
  • Posing as someone else in order to obtain their prescription.

While prescription drug crimes can be serious, there may be various defenses available to a person who has been charged with a crime.

What are the Penalties for Prescription Drug Crimes?

Prescription drug crimes can be classified as either misdemeanor or felony crimes. Misdemeanor charges are usually reserved for minor prescription drug crimes, such as possession of a small amount for personal use. These types of charges may result in criminal consequences like criminal fines and a short period in a county jail (usually up to one year).

Felony prescription drug crimes can involve more serious conduct, such as possession of a large amount with the intent to distribute the illegal drugs, or manufacturing prescription drugs illegally in large amounts. These types of crimes will likely result in higher criminal fines, and longer sentences in a prison facility (not a jail facility). The charges will usually involve confiscation of the drugs as well as confiscation of any paraphernalia, money, and properties associated with the drug operations.

What is the Unwitting Possession Defense?

This is a drug crime defense that a defendant can use when they are in actual possession of the prescription drug, but did not actually know that their possession was illegal. The defense exists because a person needs to know that they are in possession of the drug illegally.

An example of unwitting possession is when an individual gives the defendant a bag to hold. If the person does not know the bag contains prescription drugs, and they do not possess the required knowledge to be guilty of illegal possession.

Another example is if the drugs are left in the defendant’s vehicle and later discovered during a traffic stop. The defendant may not be found guilty because they were completely unaware of the presence of the prescription drugs.

What is the Lack of Possession Defense?

Lack of possession means the defendant did not have actual control over the prescription drug. The foundation of any prescription drug charge is actual physical possession. For instance, assume that the defendant shared possession or occupation of an area with a group of other people, such as a vehicle or house.

The prosecution would need to show that the prescription drugs were actually in the exclusive possession of the defendant (such as in a personal locker in their bedroom). Anyone occupying the shared area could have possessed the drugs.

Can I Use the Illegal Search and Seizure Defense?

The Fourth Amendment forbids the police from searching anyone’s home without a warrant. It also forbids police from searching a vehicle without probable cause. If a police officer conducts a search without a warrant or without probable cause, a defense attorney could use that fact to get the evidence or prescription drugs suppressed (not allowed in court).

What is the Duress Defense?

In some cases, it may be a defense if the person was under duress at the time of the crime. This means that the person was under threat of harm or force at the time of the crime. A relatively common example of this is where a person is held at gunpoint and forced to carry, possess, sell, or trade illegal prescription drugs.

Here, the person might not be found guilty of the crime, since they were doing so in order to prevent the loss of their life or to prevent serious harm from happening to them. These types of cases can sometime involve multiple defendants, and can often involve multiple offenses as well, which would be covered by the defense.  

Should I Discuss Prescription Drug Crime Defenses with a Criminal Attorney?

Prescription drug crimes can be serious, but a criminal defense attorney will be able to help you determine which defense to use. The attorney will also be able to fight the charges and possibly get them dismissed or reduced. State laws may vary regarding prescription drug crimes, but an attorney can provide advice and guidance during trial.

Photo of page author Jose Rivera

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 08-14-2018 08:58 PM PDT

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