Prescription medications come in handy when treating different ailments. In California, medical professionals are the only individuals allowed to prescribe medications. Most medications sold in pharmacies require the buyer to have a valid prescription. The strict California drug prescription laws aim to combat addiction and prescription medication abuse.
Forging or altering prescriptions is a serious criminal offense. You could also be arrested and charged for signing another person’s name or a fake or forged prescription. This offense is charged under California Business and Professions Code 4324 and has serious legal and collateral consequences. Before you are found guilty under this statute, the prosecution must prove that you possess a forged prescription and attempt to use or pass it off as authentic.
You will face incarceration and hefty fines if you are found guilty of Violating Business and Professions Code 4324. Additionally, you will have a criminal record that may impact your personal and professional lives. You will benefit from our expert legal insight at Long Beach Criminal Attorney if you or a loved one faces charges for altering or forging a prescription in Long Beach, CA.
Overview of Business and Professions Code 4324
Drug addiction and abuse have impacted millions of people in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, illegal narcotics are not the only substances prone to abuse. A person could be addicted to prescription medications. The fight against drug abuse is essential, given that prescriptions are available in pharmacies and hospitals.
Under California Business and Professions Code 4324, it is illegal to forge or alter a prescription. This could involve writing a wrongful prescription or altering an existing prescription for personal benefit. Forging or altering a prescription is a non-violent white-collar crime committed for personal use. However, the consequences of a conviction for the offense can be severe and long-term. Acts that could constitute a violation under Business and Professions Code 4324 include:
- Making false statements to a doctor or pharmacist to obtain a prescription for medications.
- Obtaining or using prescription drugs intended for another person.
- Signing a false prescription with the doctor’s name or signature.
- Presenting or attempting to present a forged prescription to a doctor.
- Altering the contents of a prescription to receive medication unlawfully.
Due to the severe impact of drug abuse and addiction on society, prosecutors will be aggressive in obtaining a conviction in your case. However, before you are found guilty of altering or forging a prescription, the prosecution must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
You Possessed a Prescription
Like illegal narcotics, prescription medication can cause addiction in its users. Business and Professions Code 4324 focuses on preventing people from obtaining these medications with false prescriptions. Under California law, a prescription is a direct order to obtain medications. Medical professionals are the only individuals who can legally offer a prescription accompanied by instructions on taking the drugs.
A prescription can be given via phone call, text, or written note. A legal prescription includes the type of medication prescribed and its dosage. Additionally, it must have the physician's full name, contact information, and signature. Under the Controlled Substances Act of California, medical prescriptions are valid for up to six months.
You Forged or Altered a Prescription
Before you are convicted of Violating BPC 4324, it must be clear that the prescription in your possession was forged or altered. Forging a prescription involves writing a prescription when you are not authorized to do so or signing another person's name on the prescription.
Altering a prescription, on the other hand, could include a modification in the dosage or the date of the prescription to ensure its validity. Such conduct could allow a person to receive more medication than is necessary or medication not needed for medical treatment.
In addition to altering or forging a prescription, you could be found guilty of this offense for changing a false prescription. This involves giving the wrong information to a pharmacist so you can obtain medications unlawfully.
Sentencing and Punishment for Forging or Altering a Prescription
A violation of Business and Professions Code 4324 is a wobbler. This means that the prosecution can file misdemeanor or felony charges against you for the offense. Some of the factors that could impact the court’s decision on the nature of your charges include:
- Your criminal history. California law is strict on repeat offenders. If you have an extensive criminal record for offenses under the same statute or related crimes, the prosecution may file felony charges. This is to ensure that you face the maximum punishment for your crime.
- The intended purpose of the drugs. Some individuals falsify prescriptions for personal drug use, while others hope to distribute the medication to other addicts and drug abusers. A prescription for personal use may be treated more leniently. The prosecution may determine your intent with the medications based on the prescription's quantity of drugs.
- Type of drug. In California, drugs are categorized into different schedules. The categorization is based on the drug's ability to affect your physical and mental well-being. Altering a prescription for highly addictive drugs can result in felony charges.
Regardless of the nature of your criminal charges, you will require expert legal insight to fight for your freedom. As a misdemeanor, altering or forging a prescription attracts a jail sentence of up to one year and fines that will not exceed $1,000. A felony conviction, on the other hand, could see you spend between sixteen months and three years in prison. Additionally, the court could impose a $10,000 fine.
Sometimes, the court may send you to probation instead of incarceration. A probation sentence allows defendants to spend a portion of their sentence out of prison or jail and on community service. Probation could be formal or informal, depending on the nature of your charges. The probation sentence will not be automatic; your defense attorney must negotiate the sentence with the prosecuting attorney.
You have a better chance of a probation sentence if you are a first-time offender or do not have an extensive criminal history. Formal probation lasts for up to five years and is imposed on defendants facing felony charges. If you are charged with a misdemeanor violation of Business and Professions Code 4324, you could avoid jail time through informal probation that lasts up to three years.
While probation is a more favorable sentence than incarceration, the court may attach the following conditions to your sentence:
- Submit regular reports to the court. You must submit regular progress reports if you are sentenced to misdemeanor probation. This allows the court to monitor your progress.
- Regular check-ins with your probation officer. Since felony probation is more stringent, the court will appoint a probation officer for your case. Throughout your probation sentence, you must report to the officer regularly.
- Avoid criminal activity. While serving your probation sentence, the court requires you to avoid illegal activity.
- Drug treatment. Forging or altering prescriptions is common among individuals with drug dependency issues. If the court sends you on probation for this offense, you may need to undergo a drug treatment program.
- Community service. When you are out of incarceration and on probation, the court will require you to perform community service.
Altering or Forging a Prescription in Federal Law
Under the Federal Controlled Substance Act (21 USC 843), obtaining or acquiring a controlled substance through fraud, misrepresentation, or forgery is illegal. The federal law punishes pharmacists and doctors who falsify prescriptions for large quantities of medications. Additionally, you can be charged under federal law for trafficking drugs obtained through forged prescriptions.
You could spend up to four years in prison when charged in federal court with forging a prescription. Your sentence for the offense could increase to eight years in federal prison for a subsequent offense.
Defense Against Charges for Forging or Altering a Prescription
The stakes are high for California defendants facing charges of altering or forging a prescription. If you are convicted of the offense, you will face incarceration and fines and have a criminal record. With the guidance of a knowledgeable lawyer, you could use the following defenses against your case:
If you depend on prescription medication, you can use your addiction to defend your Business and Professions Code 4324 charges. However, this defense must be backed up by medical testimony. Although the addiction defense will not help you avoid liability for your actions, you could convince the court to impose a lesser sentence for your offense.
If the judge sentences you to probation after a successful addiction defense, you must undergo drug abuse treatment. Additionally, you must consent to random searches by law enforcement officers.
Your Prescription was Legitimate
A medical prescription can be written for a deserving person by a doctor or medical professional without violating California law. You cannot be found guilty under Business and Professions Code 4324 if authorized to write or alter the prescriptions. However, not all medical practitioners can legally write prescriptions. You must support your defense by presenting a license to write or dispense prescriptions.
Most perpetrators of white-collar crimes make legitimate attempts to conceal the crime and avoid capture. This makes it challenging for the law enforcement officer to uncover the truth and make an arrest for the offense. The pressure to arrest and charge someone with the offense could cause the police to use unethical measures like forcing or coercing you to confess. California law protects all individuals from unlawful police tactics.
If your BPC 4324 charge is based on a coerced confession, you can petition the court to eliminate the evidence collected through coercion from your case.
Sometimes charges for white-collar crimes like forging or altering a prescription are built on false allegations. A false accusation against you could result from a mistake of fact where another person’s signature is mistaken for yours. Additionally, a person with whom you have a strained relationship can falsely accuse you of the crime to get back at you. With the help of a criminal attorney, you can cover up the false allegations and avoid a conviction.
Offenses Related to Business and Professions Code 4324
Forging or altering a prescription for medication is a serious white-collar crime in California. If you face charges for this crime, the prosecution could introduce the following related offenses to your case:
Possession of a Controlled Substance
Under California Health and Safety Code 22350, possession of a controlled substance is a crime. Controlled substances could be anything from illegal narcotics to prescription medications. If you are arrested for possessing prescription medications without a valid prescription, you could be charged with HSC 11350 and altering or forging a prescription. In this case, the prosecution must prove that you forged or altered the prescription and used it to obtain the medication.
A first offense for possessing prescription medication without a license will be charged as a misdemeanor, resulting in a one-year jail sentence. Your penalties for this offense will increase if you are a repeat offender.
Under California Health and Safety Code 11173, prescription fraud involves the attempt to obtain a controlled substance through fraudulent utterances. You could also be charged with this offense for obtaining medication for one prescription from multiple doctors. Prescription fraud can attract felony or misdemeanor charges, depending on your circumstances.
Find a Reliable Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
California law has strict restrictions on drug prescriptions. These laws help prevent incidences of drug possession without a prescription and curb the abuse of prescription drugs. Under California Business and Professions Code 4324, you will be arrested and charged for forging or altering a drug prescription.
Although altering a prescription is a non-violent crime, the consequences of a conviction for the offense go beyond incarceration and fines. Your conviction will leave behind a stained criminal record that is challenging to shake off. Understanding the nature of your charges and the legal implications of a conviction will help you mount the appropriate defense to fight the charges.
Hiring and retaining a competent defense attorney is critical when you face charges for altering or forging prescriptions in California. At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we will protect your legal rights and help you explore different defense strategies for a favorable outcome in your case. We serve clients seeking legal guidance to battle criminal cases in Long Beach, CA. Contact us today at 562-308-7807 and allow us to guide you through your case.