Court Upholds Conviction For Possession Of Prescription Drugs

Here is a case that is not uncommon in today’s society. The defendant was found guilty of having a bottle of Vicodin and other pills, claiming that he was just holding on to them for a friend. Here are the facts:

Following a traffic stop, appellant was found in possession of 207 pills in a prescription bottle with a scratched-off label. Appellant did not have a prescription for the pills which were morphine, hydrocodone, and valium. He was charged and convicted of violating former Health and Safety Code sections 11350 (possession of a controlled substance); 11352 (transportation of a controlled substance); and 11377, subdivision (a) (possession of methamphetamine). At trial, the defense presented evidence that appellant had been assisting an ill friend to move. When the friend dropped his medications, appellant picked them up and put them in a discarded bottle, intending to give them back. The friend testified the pills were his and that he had valid prescriptions for them. Notwithstanding this, the trial court refused to instruct on the prescription defense. Affirmed. At the time of trial, the referenced Health and Safety Code sections each contained the words, “unless upon the written prescription of a physician.” The court here applied the rules of statutory construction and found that this quoted clear and unambiguous language limits the prescription defense to the person for whom the prescription was written. To allow the prescription defense to apply to someone other than the one for whom the prescription is written would rewrite the statutory requirements of the offenses to add a specific intent requirement. It would also require the District Attorney to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the possession or transportation was not consistent with the prescription. Conceding that this ruling could result in a legal conundrum by not allowing the person who merely picks up a relative’s prescription at the pharmacy, fully intending to deliver it to the prescription-holder, to assert the defense, the court nevertheless declined to expand the scope of the prescription defense, stating it is for the Legislature, not the court, to do so. (Courtesy of CCAP)

Though not a Torrance criminal case, this scenario is played out every day in California. It will be interesting to see if the case is depublished or reversed by the Supreme Court.

About thetorranceattorney

Matthew Ruff is a Torrance criminal defense attorney located near the 405 freeway on Crenshaw Blvd. Focusing on DUI and serious criminal cases for over twenty years. In addition to criminal cases, Matthew also defends clients at the DMV.
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