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What Does It Mean to Be a Registered Narcotics Offender?

For anyone convicted of certain drug offenses, it may come as a surprise that one must report to the local police or sheriff station to register as a narcotics offender.  One of our clients refused to do this because she felt ashamed to do so (it was unclear why the conviction did not have the same effect on her).  This obligation of probation, however, is not a lifelong registration requirement as exists with being a registered sex offender under Penal Code § 290, but the stigma is similar.
What One Should Learn from This Article:  Being a registered narcotics offender is a temporary obligation that lasts for five years after one completes probation or after one is released from state prison or county jail, whichever is later.  There is no Fourth Amendment waiver attached to such a registration requirement.
What comes with being a registered narcotics offender and why is there such a requirement?  When one reports to local law enforcement to register, which usually must be done within a few days of being sentenced on a drug offense (sometimes as long as 30 days), one is required to be photographed, provide fingerprints and submit to a short interview.  The interview will elicit information about one’s address, the drug that formed the basis for the conviction, one’s date of birth and one’s driver’s license number.

Law enforcement will also hopefully explain that the obligation to register continues for five years after one finishes probation or is released from county jail or state prison, whichever is later.  The obligation includes a duty to report any change of address within ten days of moving.  One must advise local law enforcement of one’s residence, whether it be within the city covered by the local police or to a new city.  If one moves to a new city, one will have to re-register, i.e. go through the same laborious photographing, fingerprinting and interview.

Police Station Hermosa BeachPolice Station Hermosa Beach

The stated purpose of the registration requirement is to assist law enforcement in monitoring the whereabouts of those convicted of some of the more serious drug offenses to help law enforcement prevent further crimes.  The person does not waive his or her Fourth Amendment rights as a registered drug offender, although the person may have waived them separately while on probation or post release community supervision.

Who must register?  According to Health & Safety Code 11590, the answer is anyone convicted of Health and Safety Code §§ 11351.5, 11352, 11353, 11353.5, 11353.7, 11354, 11355, 11358, 11359, 11361, 11363.3, 11366, 11366.5, 11366.6, 11368, 11370.1, 11378, 11378.5, 11379, 11379.5, 11379.6, 11380, 11380.5, 11383 or 11550.

If someone is convicted of a federal drug offense that was illegal under any of the above Health & Safety Code provisions, that person must also register.

One does not have to register if one is convicted of Health and Safety Code § 11357, 11360 or 11377.

The list is not publicly available, luckily.  This is in contrast to Illinois, Tennessee, Minnesota and Montana, where one’s neighbor can search the Internet and find out if one’s neighbor is a registered narcotics offender.

The failure to register as a narcotics offender is a misdemeanor.

After one’s five year obligation ends, one’s name is not taken off the list of registered narcotics offenders, even though the obligation to report ends under Health & Safety Code § 11594.  We at Greg Hill & Associates know of no method by which one can have one’s name removed from the list similar to procedures available for one who wishes to remove one’s name from the Megan’s List sex offender Internet listing.  Expungement does not have any effect on the obligation and in fact, the obligation to register can even continue after one’s conviction is expunged.
We understand the stated purpose of the registration requirement, as there are similar registration requirements for arson offenders, sex offenders and gang members convicted of crimes.  However, the rate of recidivism is far, far higher, we have noticed, for those convicted of DUI and domestic violence, yet there is no similar registration requirement.

For more information about common drug offense issues, please click on the following articles:
  1. What Is Possession of a Controlled Substance & the Defenses?
  2. What Is Transportation of a Controlled Substance (H&S 11352)?
  3. What Is Manufacturing a Controlled Substance (H & S 11379.6)?
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