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If Drugs are Found in a House, Who is Responsible?

If you live in a house where someone else is using drugs, you may wonder what can happen if law enforcement finds controlled substances there. If you are the only person in a house, you can face drug charges as the home’s sole occupant. However, when someone else is the one using or selling the drugs, you can also face charges. Let’s look at what can happen and who is responsible if law enforcement finds drugs in a house.

Constructive Possession Charges

When law enforcement finds an illegal substance on your person, they may charge you with possession, PWISD, or trafficking. However, if law enforcement finds them in your car or house, the charges may change. 

It is illegal to knowingly or intentionally allow controlled substances or to keep, sell, or maintain substances in any:

  • Store 
  • Shop 
  • Warehouse
  • Dwelling house
  • Building
  • Vehicle
  • Boat
  • Aircraft
  • Place 

If you don’t have actual bodily possession of the drugs, the law looks at two criteria, whether you have:

  • Intent to possess the substances 
  • Capability to control the substances 

If you meet those two criteria, you can face constructive possession charges. Even if you share your control over the substances with others, law enforcement may charge you. 

How to Defend Yourself Against Conviction

Sometimes you can’t control the people in a house with you. You may not know that your passengers are carrying drugs in your car. In these cases, you may defend yourself in court by showing that you had no intent to possess the substances or a capability or opportunity to control the substances. You may also need to show that you were not close to the drugs and did not have the chance to place the drugs where law enforcement found them.

As a defense, you can show that you had:

  • A lack of close proximity to the drugs
  • No opportunity to place the drugs where found
  • No control over whether the drugs were there or not

In these court cases, “the state must present other incriminating circumstances to establish sufficient evidence of constructive possession” to convict you. (1) 

Insufficient Evidence Cases in NC

Every case has different outcomes depending on what facts come out in court. When there is insufficient evidence, there is no conviction. 

Consider the insufficient evidence in the constructive possession cases below:

  • When the defendant was found upstairs in a small hallway or landing in the home, the drugs found in an upstairs bedroom with two other people present. The evidence did not place the defendant in the same room with the cocaine. In this case, the defendant was not near the drugs, so there was insufficient evidence. [State v. Autry, 101 N.C. App. 245 (1991)] 
  • The defendant leased an apartment where police found marijuana. The defendant had not been in the apartment for forty-four days, and there was evidence that he had sublet to another person living there. That person admitted sole possession of the marijuana. Because the defendant wasn’t the sole owner or occupant, there was insufficient evidence to convict. [State v. Finney, 290 N.C. 755 (1976)]
  • No evidence that the defendant was ever in a position to secrete the contraband in a motel bathroom light fixture. Defendant not convicted because of no opportunity to place drugs where police found them. [State v. Biber, __ N.C. App. __, 698 S.E. 2d 476 (2010)] (1)

Sufficient Evidence Cases in NC

Sometimes the court finds evidence that the defendant was able to use, own, or move the drug and considers the evidence sufficient to convict. Consider these cases where the evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant:

  • Cocaine found within the defendant’s reach, in close proximity. (Miller, 363 N.C. 96)
  • Drugs found in a motorcycle carry bag when the defendant borrowed and was driving the motorcycle. In this case, the defendant had control of the motorcycle and faced conviction. [State v. Fortney, __ N.C. App. __, 687 S.E.2d 518 (2010)]
  • Cab driver testified that the defendant was the only person who had been in a position to place a package containing drugs under the drivers’ seat. Defendant convicted because he had the opportunity to put the drugs under the seat.  [Butler, 356 N.C. 141]  (1)

Court Costs and Your Rights

Going to court to fight for your innocence may cost quite a bit. However, hiring an attorney as soon as you face arrest can save you money in the long run. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer knows how to fight drug charges right from the beginning. 

With an experienced criminal law attorney, your case may never see the inside of a courtroom. Instead, negotiations may lead to a dismissal of your case or a reduction in charges. Deferred charges or a diversion program may be possible if you suffer from an addiction. 

We Can Help

At Scharff Law, we use our experience in prosecution to negotiate successfully for your charges. We find solutions to your charges that bring about the best outcome in your situation. We look at rights violations, chain of custody events, and investigate all evidence related to your case. If your case goes to court, we are ready to defend you and help others see your point of view. Our past successes working with drug charges put experience on your side. Contact us today and find out how we can help you. 


  1. https://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/constructive-possession-of-drugs/