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Maintaining a Dwelling

August 15th, 2011
By Jessica Smith

The crime of Maintaining a Store, Dwelling, Vehicle, Boat, or Other Place for Use, Storage, or Sale of Controlled Substances is a common one. In fact, AOC statistics show that this offense was charged over 14,000 times statewide in 2010. At trial, this crime presents a couple of complicated issues. One is: how does the State prove that the defendant “kept or maintained” the relevant property for the prohibited purposes?

In determining whether a person keeps or maintains property, the courts have considered the following factors:

  • that the defendant had title to or owned the property, State v. Spencer, 192 N.C. App. 143, 148 (2008); State v. Bowens, 140 N.C. App. 217, 221 (2000); State v. Allen, 102 N.C. App. 598, 608-09 (1991);
  • that the defendant paid taxes on the property, Spencer, 192 N.C. App. at 148; Bowens, 140 N.C. App. at 221;
  • that the defendant paid for repairs to or maintenance of the property, Spencer, 192 N.C. App. at 148; State v. Frazier, 142 N.C. App. 361, 365 (2001); Bowens, 140 N.C. App. at 221;
  • that the defendant paid rent on the property; Spencer, 192 N.C. App. at 148; State v. Hart, 179 N.C. App. 30, 41-42 (2006); Frazier, 142 N.C. App. at 366; Bowens, 140 N.C. App. at 221; State v. Alston, 91 N.C. App. 707, 711 (1988);
  • that the defendant paid the property’s utility bills or contributed to expenses associated with the property, State v. Fuller, 196 N.C. App 412, 424 (2009); Spencer, 192 N.C. App. at 148; State v. Moore, 188 N.C. App. 416, 424 (2008); Hart, 179 N.C. App. at 42; Frazier, 142 N.C. App. at 365; Bowens, 140 N.C. App. at 221; Allen, 102 N.C. App. at 609;
  • that the defendant resided at the property, Moore, 188 N.C. App. at 424; State v. Baldwin, 161 N.C. App. 382, 393 (2003);
  • that the defendant occupied the property, Spencer, 192 N.C. App. at 148; Frazier, 142 N.C. App. at 365; State v. Shine, 173 N.C. App. 699, 704 (2005); Bowens, 140 N.C. App. at 221;
  • that the defendant possessed the property over a duration of time, Frazier, 142 N.C. App. at 365; and
  • that the defendant had a key to the property, Frazier, 142 N.C.App. at 365; State v. Alston, 91 N.C. App. 707, 711 (1988).

Although occupancy is a relevant factor, evidence of occupancy alone is insufficient evidence to establish that the defendant kept or maintained the property. State v. Cowan, 194 N.C. App. 330, 337 (2008); Spencer, 192 N.C. App. at 148. However, evidence of residency standing alone is sufficient evidence. Cowan, 194 N.C. App. at 337 (evidence sufficient when the defendant told police that he resided at the premises); Spencer, 192 NC App. at 148 (same).

When determining whether the evidence is sufficient on this element, courts look to the totality of the circumstances. Fuller, 196 N.C. App. at 424; Hart, 179 N.C. App. at 41. Thus, cases arise in which the evidence is insufficient, even if one or more of the above-listed factors are present. See State v. Fuller, 196 N.C. App 412, 424-45 (2009) (the evidence was insufficient when the defendant discussed with the mobile home’s actual tenant, taking over the rent payments, but never reached an agreement to do so, a car similar to the defendant’s was regularly parked outside the trailer even after the tenant vacated, and defendant’s shoes and personal papers were found in the mobile home; there was no evidence that the defendant paid rent, utilities, or for repairs, made any repairs, or otherwise took responsibility for the mobile home; at most the evidence suggested that defendant occupied the mobile home trailer for approximately two months); State v. Toney, 187 N.C. App. 465, 471 (2007) (the evidence was insufficient when although the defendant occupied the hotel room one night and was present during the search, there was no evidence that he paid for the room or was a registered guest); State v. Carter, 184 N.C. App. 706, 710 (2007) (the defendant was the sole occupant of the residence when the search was conducted, three photographs found in a bedroom showed him in various places in the house, and the defendant’s identification and other papers were found there but none listed the residence as his home address; there was no evidence that the defendant owned the property or took any responsibility for it, and, in fact, a utility bill was found in the defendant’s brother’s name); State v. Harris, 157 N.C. App. 647, 651-53 (2003) (the evidence was insufficient when the defendant was seen at the house several times and some of his personal property was found in a bedroom; none of his papers listed the house as his address); State v. Kraus, 147 N.C. App. 766, 768-69 (2001) (the evidence was insufficient when it showed that the defendant had access to a key, spent the previous night in the motel room, and was present when the contraband was found; there was no evidence that she paid for or maintained the motel room and she had occupied it for less than 24 hours when law enforcement officers arrived); State v. Hamilton, 145 N.C. App. 152, 154 (2001) (the evidence was insufficient when the defendant visited an apartment leased to his girlfriend and regularly used her vehicles parked there); State v. Bowens, 140 N.C. App. 217, 221-22 (2000) (the evidence was insufficient when the defendant was seen in and out of the dwelling 8-to-10 times over 2-to-3 days, nobody else was seen entering the premises during this period of time, and men’s clothing was found in a closet in the dwelling; there was no evidence that the defendant owned or leased the dwelling or that he had any responsibility for the payment of the utilities or the general upkeep; furthermore, although men’s clothing was found in the dwelling, there was no evidence that the clothes belonged to the defendant).

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One Response to “Maintaining a Dwelling”

  1. David Spence says:

    I may indict a defendant who has been charged with Maintaing a Dwelling along with other related drug charges. but I never try it along with the “main case.” First of all, explaining the difference between Misdemeanor Maintaining and Felony Maintaining (willful v. intentional) is damn near impossible. Second of all, it gives a jury something to compromise when the other charges are higher classes. Third, a jury may be out forever just deciding this charge, after they have agreed on all the others, and I have never seen a judge not consolidate it into the more serious charges if the defendant is convicted of Class I Maintaining and other more serious charges.
    Thanks for the post. With the punishment for Class I Felonies being so minimal, as it probably should be for this charge, researching even interesting topics like this is hard to justify anymore.

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