Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib

Decoding Drug Busts: Unraveling the Legality and Consequences of Drug Crimes in California


Drug busts are big, flashy, and designed to make the news. If you have been caught in a drug bust, you know they can be terrifying, too. As scary as these operations can be, they aren’t the absolute guarantee of drug crime convictions that the media portrays them to be. 

If you have been charged with a crime after a drug-related sting operation, you have options. Here’s what you need to know about drug stings and busts in California, your rights after you’ve been charged, and possible defenses against drug crime charges.

Understanding Drug Crimes in California

You can be charged with substance-related crimes at both the state and federal levels. While most charges remain at the state level due to the volume of substance-related offenses in the US, federal charges do still occur. Federal action is particularly common for large-scale operations and those that cross state lines. 

The general definition of these crimes is the same at both levels. There are four types of drug crimes described in federal and California law:

  • Possession: Having a small quantity of a controlled or illegal substance on your person or in your belongings. In California, this is a misdemeanor only, but the thresholds for possession are usually quite low.
  • Manufacturing: Making a controlled substance without government permission. Manufacturing is a felony offense and can lead to up to seven years in jail and fines of up to $50,000.
  • Trafficking: Transporting substances from one location to another, particularly across state lines or between a manufacturer and a consumer or distributor. It is a felony and can lead to up to nine years in prison and $20,000 in fines. 
  • Distribution: Selling or possessing large quantities of substances beyond what could be for personal use, particularly in association with items like plastic bags that imply the drugs would be sold. Selling drugs is also a felony carrying up to nine years in prison and $20,000 in fines. 

With the potential penalties involved, any substance charge should be avoided if possible and fought when necessary. 

The Legality and Controversies Surrounding Drug Busts

While California has less strict drug laws than many states, the rules still exist and are enforced. However, law enforcement agencies are typically less focused on individual substance users and more on taking down manufacturers and traffickers. The belief is that cutting off the supply of an illegal substance will have a much greater impact on overall use than targeting individuals. 

To accomplish this, agencies have spent decades refining drug busts and stings. These operations are intended to collect information and evidence about drug rings, identify the people in charge, and hopefully shut down the entire group. 

But do they work? That’s up for debate. According to a brand-new study released in June 2023, drug busts may actually make substance use increase. In the weeks following major substance busts, fatal overdoses in the area tend to spike dramatically. Instead of halting substance use, busts appear to provide opportunities for new dealers and manufacturers to enter neighborhoods and sell more dangerous substances. 

Furthermore, busts may be questionably legal. It is easy for these operations to violate your right to freedom from illegal search and seizure. Furthermore, if there are undercover law enforcement officers involved, you may be at risk of entrapment. As such, if you have been charged with a substance crime after being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, you have a variety of options to defend yourself.

Seeking Justice: Defense Strategies Against Drug Bust Charges

With the potential consequences of a drug bust charge including nearly a decade in jail, defending yourself against the allegations is crucial. Depending on the circumstances, your lawyer may use some or all of these arguments in your defense.

  • Lack of knowledge: If you weren’t aware there were drugs on your property, you have not committed a crime. For example, you cannot be convicted of trafficking just because your roommate sells illegal substances without your knowledge.
  • Medical permission: Many substances that are federally controlled or prohibited are permitted for limited medical use in California. The state cannot convict you for possessing a controlled substance if you have a prescription issued in California.
  • Illegal search and seizure: The police need permission or a valid warrant to enter private structures. If you are in public, they need to have a reasonable that you have a controlled substance before they can search you. If they violate these requirements, any evidence they find cannot be used in a court of law.
  • Entrapment: While undercover law enforcement officers do not need to tell you they are police, they cannot persuade, coerce, or force you to commit a crime. If they do, they have committed entrapment, and you should not be convicted.

Finally, your attorney may argue to reduce trafficking, manufacturing, or distribution charges to simple possession. This can reduce the penalties from a felony record and prison sentence to a misdemeanor and probation. 

Talk to a Redwood City Defense Lawyer About Your Drug Bust Charges

Being arrested in a drug bust can be stressful, scary, and even traumatizing. However, just because you have been charged does not mean you will automatically be convicted. With the help of an experienced defense attorney, you can fight back against your charges and avoid the serious consequences of a felony conviction. If you’ve been charged with drug crimes in Redwood City, you should talk to the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib. We are dedicated to defending our clients against state and federal drug offenses of all kinds. We will work with you to build a solid defense and fight to get your charges dropped or lowered. Learn more about how we will advocate for you by scheduling your consultation today.