Maintaining Drug Involved Premises – A Helpful Guide
Maintaining drug involved premises is a serious federal offense that carries heavy penalties. This article provides a helpful overview of the law, typical cases, defenses, and things to know if you are facing charges.
The Law – 21 U.S.C. 856
The federal law that prohibits maintaining drug involved premises is 21 U.S.C. 856, commonly known as the “crackhouse statute”. It was passed in 1986 as part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act to combat the crack epidemic by shutting down locations used for manufacturing, distributing, or using illegal drugs.
There are two ways to violate 21 U.S.C. 856:
- Knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place, whether permanently or temporarily, for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance.
- Manage or control any place, whether permanently or temporarily, either as an owner, lessee, agent, employee, occupant, or mortgagee, and knowingly and intentionally rent, lease, profit from, or make available for use, with or without compensation, the place for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance.
So in simple terms, it’s illegal to operate or allow a property to be used as a drug house. The location can be a house, apartment, storefront, warehouse, vehicle, or any other premises used for drug activity.
Maintaining drug involved premises is a felony punishable by:
- Up to 20 years in prison
- Fines up to $500,000 for individuals, $2 million for organizations
- Forfeiture of property
- Civil penalties up to $250,000 or 2x gross revenue from the violation
Sentences are based on federal sentencing guidelines and other factors in your specific case. There are also potential sentencing enhancements that can increase the penalties if certain aggravating factors are present.
- A family home where drug sales occurred, even though other family members lived there
- Renting out a room in your home to store drugs for distribution
- Managing a “stash house” used by a drug trafficking organization
- Operating a marijuana grow house out of your residence
- Allowing an apartment to be used for cutting and bagging crack cocaine
- Leasing space to a business you know is distributing illegal drugs
The key issues are knowingly allowing the property to be used for drug activity, and that drug sales must be a primary (not just incidental) use of the premises.
There are several legal defenses that may apply in maintaining drug premises cases:
- Lack of knowledge – Argue you did not know about the drug activity on the property. However, willful blindness to obvious signs of drug sales will not suffice.
- Incidental drug use – Seek to prove the drug use was only incidental or collateral to other lawful purposes of the property.
- Contesting the search – Challenge whether police had valid legal grounds to search the property and seize evidence.
- Severing ties to premises – Demonstrate you did not sufficiently manage, control, or profit from the property’s use as a drug house.
- Entrapment – Claim you were improperly induced or coerced into allowing the drug activity.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer can assess the evidence and determine if any viable defenses apply in your specific circumstances.
Things to Know if Facing Charges
Here are some key things to understand if you or a loved one is facing maintaining drug involved premises charges:
- Get an attorney immediately – These are serious felony charges that must be aggressively challenged.
- Cooperate fully with your lawyer – Be honest about any drug activity you knew of or should have known of.
- Expect a lengthy investigation – These cases take months or years before charges are filed.
- Your property faces forfeiture – Police can seize property involved in the crime through civil asset forfeiture.
- Seek drug addiction treatment – If drugs are a problem for you, treatment can help your case.
- Prepare financially – You will need money for legal fees, treatment costs, and living expenses if jailed pre-trial.
- Watch what you say – Anything you say to police can be used against you, so invoke your right to remain silent.
- Don’t violate bail – Bail terms will likely prohibit drug use and any criminal conduct.
- Explore plea bargains – Prosecutors may offer lighter sentencing for a guilty plea.
- Get character references – Upstanding people vouching for you can help at sentencing.
- Expect immigration consequences – These charges make deportation likely if you are not a U.S. citizen.
The Bottom Line
Maintaining drug involved premises is a very serious federal felony charge that comes with steep penalties and consequences. Anyone facing this charge needs an experienced criminal defense lawyer to protect their rights, seek dismissal of charges, or negotiate the best possible plea deal. Be proactive in seeking legal counsel and treatment to mitigate the damages as much as possible.