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Under Maryland law, there are various statutes involving controlled dangerous substances with which persons who possess or sell drugs may be charged, including possession with intent to distribute the narcotics, possession of drug paraphernalia or items associated with sale or use of drugs and related offenses. Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court this week addressed a lesser known offense which may be used by the State in drug cases, keeping “a common nuisance,” in a case called Adrian Fitchett v. State of Maryland.
The Court’s opinion indicates that police executed a search warrant on a mobile home, and found the defendant among other people exiting the home. Inside, they found heroin in a bathroom, a white powder that was a known cutting agent for heroin, plastic baggies and cash. Just outside the mobile home, in an old truck that the evidence showed was frequently accessed by the defendant, was found a quantity of heroin in baggies that matched what was found inside the home. Fitchett was charged with numerous offenses, including keeping a public nuisance, which is the only crime on which the jury convicted him.
On appeal, the defense challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the public nuisance charge. The appellate Court noted that the law provides that “a person may not keep a common nuisance.” The term “common nuisance” includes a “dwelling…or other place:1) resorted to by individuals for the purpose of administering illegally controlled dangerous substances, or 2) where controlled dangerous substances or controlled paraphernalia are manufactured, distributed, dispensed, stored, or concealed illegally.” In this case, the Court reviewed whether the defendant had a sufficient connection to his grandmother’s trailer which was searched by the police to support the conviction.
The Court found that there was a sufficient connection to show that the defendant was not a mere casual visitor to the home. The evidence showed that he visited nearly every day, had his own bedroom where he kept clothes and property, his daughter frequently stayed at the home, he had his own key and permission to access it whenever he wished, and had even installed a video surveillance camera. Baggies of the type in which the heroin was stored were found in his bedroom, and heroin in the bathroom next door.
This evidence was sufficient to show that defendant “kept” a common nuisance for the sale of drugs.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.