A recent North Carolina criminal case titled State v. Miller has further complicated the interpretation of G.S. 90-108 (a)(7). This is the statute that implicates the charge for maintaining a dwelling in North Carolina. Maintaining a dwelling is a criminal charge that can result in a class I felony with a maximum punishment of up to 24 months incarceration. In an earlier blog post, we touched on the courts new interpretation of the maintaining a dwelling statute after a case named State v. Rogers broadened the scope of this offense:
“Now, instead of having to prove that the controlled substances have been in possession over a period of time in the dwelling, prosecutors only need to prove that the controlled substances were being stored in the dwelling.”State v. Roger
In the Miller case, the second part of the statute, not mentioned above, is being argued about. In this case the Defendant conducted a drug sale at his home. After receiving a complaint that the Defendant was selling drugs, officers sent an informant to purchase crack cocaine. After the transaction he was charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine, sale of cocaine and maintaining a dwelling. The Defendant appealed, and the court of appeals eventually found that the evidence was not enough. Other than the bag of crack cocaine sold, there were no drugs or other evidence of selling drugs found in the Defendants home. The court of appeals stated,
“an isolated or single incident of Defendant selling a controlled substance from his home fails to demonstrate that he ‘used’ or maintained the home to keep or sell drugs.”State v. Roger
Regarding the charge of maintaining a dwelling for the case at hand, the Court of Appeals said that the question is whether the evidence shows the Defendant possessed the property for the purpose of selling or keeping crack cocaine. This is where the interpretation of the statute for maintaining a dwelling, G.S. 90-108 (a)(7), gets interesting.
To further illustrate the importance of this distinction, a hypothetical example is helpful. Imagine that Bob owns a beach house off the coast. Bob owns this beach house because he loves to go to the beach on occasion and have a place to stay with his family and friends. Every once and a while, Bob sells cocaine to his friends when they come to visit his beach house. Selling cocaine is not the reason Bob owns this beach house, and most of his visits to the beach house do not involve cocaine. Under the more stringent interpretation of the statute, Bob is in violation, because he has sold drugs at his beach house, regardless of his purpose for maintaining the beach house. Under the less stringent interpretation of the statute, Bob is scot-free. Bob isn’t maintaining the beach house for the purpose of selling drugs, so he is not in violation of the statute. This is essentially how the appeals court ruled in State v. Miller.