Maintaining a Dwelling Charges

In North Carolina and federal law, it is a crime to maintain a store, vehicle, warehouse, home (“dwelling”), building or any other property for the purpose of using, distributing, or manufacturing a controlled substance. This crime is referred to as “maintaining a dwelling” in North Carolina (under statute N.C.G.S § 90-108(7)), or “maintaining drug-involved premises” in federal law (under statute 21 U.S.C § 856). In both cases, the law exists to target and enforce drug laws at different angles by going after the people maintaining a property implicated in a drug offense. While it may seem like the purpose of this law is to target drug trafficking operations, the law can be interpreted broadly and apply to much smaller scale offenses as well.

The penalties for these charges can be quite severe, including the possibility for large fines and asset forfeiture as well as imprisonment. Whether facing an investigation or charges for maintaining a dwelling, you should contact a drug crime defense lawyer immediately.

home owner charged with maintaining a dwelling has their home closed

Maintaining a Dwelling — North Carolina Law

In most cases, a person would face charges for maintaining a dwelling if their car, house or other form of property was searched and law enforcement believe they found evidence that suggests the place or vehicle is being used for the sale, production or use of drugs. However, in North Carolina the property does not need to be solely used for drugs, and in many cases can exist primarily for other purposes. This does mean that your property could be considered a “drug dwelling” even if you primarily use it for other legal purposes.

What prosecution must prove, at the very least, is that you were aware that drug offenses were taking place in the property you maintained. In North Carolina, further distinction is made between being aware of the crime taking place and intending for it to take place, as follows:

  • Knowingly maintaining a dwelling: A person acts knowingly when they are aware, in a practical sense, that their actions will lead to the consequent drug offense(s) taking place. For example, a person may rent an apartment to tenants who they know are using it for drug activity but did not intend to hire tenants who would do so.
  • Intentionally maintaining a dwelling: A person acts intentionally when they know and intend for their actions to lead to the consequent drug offense(s) taking place. For example, a person agrees to letting others use their property for drug packaging in exchange for a cut of the profits, though they are not directly involved in packaging the drugs.

Distinguishing between whether the offense was done knowingly, intentionally, or neither, comes down to the specifics of the case and how well your lawyer can argue in your favor against the prosecution’s claims.

The punishment for knowingly maintaining a dwelling is a class 1 misdemeanor, but if done intentionally it is a class I felony. North Carolina law further specifies that if you have fortified your property (e.g. placed up barricades on windows or doors) to impede law enforcement’s entry, you shall be punished with a class I felony.

Though the above table outlines penalties for possession, there are circumstances that can bring about additional charges and increases to penalties, as well as strategies you can take to reduce charges with the help of an experienced attorney.

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Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premises — Federal Law

Most aspects of the federal version of this crime are the same or similar to the North Carolina crime, though there are a few key differences. First, under federal law, penalties for this crime are the same whether it is done so knowingly or intentionally. The criminal penalties are severe, with a prison term up to 20 years or a fine up to $500,000, or both. Additionally, you can face charges for property violations and further civil penalties including hefty flat fines and forfeiture of any profits made from the offense.

The second distinction is that the federal statute does specify that the property was used for the purpose of committing drug offenses, while North Carolina statute does not. This can lead to different interpretations that may make the federal statute more lenient for smaller offenses, but only if you have experienced lawyers representing you who can make that case.

While it is more common for federal cases to only open for larger scale drug conspiracies and enterprises, it is possible to face charges at both a state and federal level for maintaining a dwelling and any other drug crime. For this reason, it is important to contact a defense attorney who can effectively navigate the state and federal court systems to take your case.

Understanding Concurrent Jurisdiction in Drug Crimes

The federal government has concurrent jurisdiction with all states, which means you can be prosecuted in both federal and state court for the same drug offense. This does not violate the double jeopardy clause in the fifth amendment of the federal constitution, which states that you cannot be prosecuted twice for the same crime by the same sovereign entity. This is because state and federal governments are essentially separate government entities. However, the federal court has the doctrine of preemption, meaning that federal law can impede state law in circumstances where they conflict.  

While an offense has potential to be tried in both courts, this does not mean that every state drug offense will reach the federal government, or that a federal charge will also result in state charges. Typically, the federal government and state governments have different priorities for drug enforcement, such as the federal government often looking for bigger cases involving interstate or multi-state operations. However, you should be aware that there still are cases where people face both state and federal prosecution for simple possession offenses. Whether facing state, federal or both charges, it is critical that you contact an attorney skilled at tackling all kinds of drug charges at both a state and federal level. The attorneys at Tarlton Polk have handled many drug cases in state and federal court, so we know how to navigate these complex cases with prowess.

Defending Maintaining a Dwelling Charges

As this is a broad area of law with severe consequences, it is important to understand the ways such charges can be defended against and hiring a lawyer who can build a solid defense specific to your case. These charges can be tackled from a variety of angles that the prosecution needs to prove to convict you of the crime, including the following:

Challenging Intent to Distribute or Manufacture

In federal cases where you are being charged for simply having a large quantity of drugs, but no clear evidence of actually trafficking the drugs, the government does need to prove that you:

  1. Were in possession of a controlled substance
  2. Knew that the substance in your possession was a controlled substance
  3. Had the intention to distribute the substance or use it in the manufacturing of drugs.

The third point is the most challenging for the prosecution to prove, but only if you have the representation of a skilled lawyer who can challenge their claims and maintain a solid defense.

Unfortunately, in North Carolina state court, the prosecution does not need to prove intent to distribute if you were in possession of drugs exceeding the quantities outlined in the statute. A skilled North Carolina attorney can still use many other effective strategies to reduce or drop these drug trafficking charges.

Did Drug Offenses Take Place in or on the Property?

Typically, these charges will be pressed in cases where drug offenses did happen, but the extent to which the property was involved can come down to the circumstances of the case. Items found in or on the property that can be presented as evidence of the crime include:

  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Firearms, especially near other items used as evidence
  • Illegal drugs or drug precursors (larger quantities are stronger evidence)
  • Large amounts of cash

Additionally, witnesses can testify to questions about the activities on the property, such as:

  • Whether anybody saw drug sales or otherwise suspicious exchanges taking place on the property or out of the vehicle.
  • Whether large number of people were observed going to and from the property.
  • Whether people going to and from the property visited another location implicated in a drug crime.
  • Whether visitors of the property were observed to be in possession and use of illegal drugs on or outside the property.

Witness testimonies can often be incorrect, especially when it comes to suspicion of drug crimes from neighbors who can be subject to biases from neighborly disputes or prejudice. However, it is not enough to accuse a witness of being biased; you will need a skilled attorney who can point to the gaps in their testimony

Did you Maintain the Dwelling?

The prosecution must establish whether you actually “maintained” the dwelling, vehicle, or other kind of property. Depending on the case, this can either be very straightforward or complicated. Factors that can be used to implicate you in “maintaining” the dwelling are:

  • Owning the property (having the title in your name) or having owned it previously.
  • Paying rent for the property.
  • Paying the property’s taxes.
  • Paying for the property’s upkeep, maintenance, or utilities.
  • Residing in the property for any given time the offense took place.
  • Having a key to the property

While some of the above would reasonably point to you “maintaining” the dwelling, such as being the primary or only occupant residing in the property or operating the vehicle, others may not directly implicate you, such as possessing a key or contributing to maintenance or utilities. In cases where your relation to the property is not very strong, your lawyer can possibly argue from the angle that you did not maintain the dwelling.  This can also be the case when there are other people with much clearer and greater responsibility for the property are involved, though multiple people can face these charges for the same property.

If you are not deemed responsible for anything happening on the property, you will not face maintaining a dwelling charge for it, regardless of whether drug offenses took place there. However, if you clearly did maintain the property your lawyer should build the defense from a different angle.

Did you Knowingly Allow Drug Offenses to take Place?

Even if drug offenses took place in or on your property, prosecution still needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were aware of the criminal activity going on. It is not enough to testify that you did not know what was happening as the court will rely on evidence presented that suggests that you must have known or may not have known what was going on. Many of the factors listed above that tie your presence and involvement in the offenses also come into play here. You will need a skilled attorney to evaluate the viability of this defense approach and come up with the best strategy to building your case. 

Speak with a Criminal Defense Attorney

It is important to recognize that not all these approaches are applicable to every case, and misuse of any of the above defenses could harm the credibility of the defense. Our lawyers at Tarlton Polk are skilled at devising the most effective defense strategy and know how to stick to it credibly while still readily adapting to changes as the case develops. If you or a loved one has been arrested for drug trafficking, you need to begin building your defense immediately, please call us today.

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