Being accused of committing a crime can be a scary proposition. Drug crimes, in particular, carry a stigma which can have long-term impacts on your employment and other areas of your life. What many people don’t realize is that you can be convicted of drug-related crimes without actually having any drugs in your possession.
California Health & Safety Code Section 11364 makes it illegal to possess a pipe, instrument or other paraphernalia used for unlawfully ingesting a controlled substance. This includes inhaling, smoking, injecting or any other means of introducing a controlled substance into the body. The paraphernalia can be an everyday household item, so long as it’s used for an unlawful purpose.
In order to prove a violation of H&S 11364, the prosecution must prove that the individual unlawfully possessed the item and that the item was to be used for an unlawful purpose. The accused person must also have known of the item’s presence and that it was to be used for ingesting a controlled substance. Note that there is no requirement for the person to possess the controlled substance itself – it can be enough that the circumstances themselves are sufficient to prove the item was to be used for a controlled substance.
Conviction for H&S 11364 is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of up to one year in county jail or a fine of $1,000. However, depending upon the circumstances, there are often defenses available to the charge. Hypodermic needles, for instance, are often possessed and used for legitimate medical needs. Also, law enforcement frequently finds what they suspect is paraphernalia during a search of either the person or their car. These searches can easily be done incorrectly and in violation of constitutional safeguards. When this happens, the paraphernalia may be excluded from evidence and the charge cannot be proved.