State v. Dunston, 371 N.C. 76 (May. 11, 2018)

The Court per curiam affirmed the opinion below, ___ N.C. App. ___, 806 S.E.2d 697 (2017). Over a dissent, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss a charge of maintaining a vehicle for keeping or selling controlled substances. The court disagreed with the defendant’s argument that case law establishes a bright-line rule that one incident of keeping or selling controlled substances always is insufficient to sustain a conviction for maintaining a vehicle. The determination, the court said, is based on the totality of the circumstances. Here, the defendant was in the vehicle at a location known for a high level of illegal drug activity. He was observed by officers unwrapping cigars and rerolling them after manipulating them. Based on the officer’s training and experience, the defendant’s actions were consistent with those used in distributing marijuana. The driver was observed in hand-to-hand exchange of cash with another person. When searched by officers, the driver was discovered to have marijuana and the defendant was no longer in possession of the “cigars.” Additionally, the defendant possessed a trafficking quantity of heroin along with plastic bags, two sets of digital scales, three cell phones, and $155 in cash. Additionally, the defendant’s ex-girlfriend testified that she was concerned about his negative influence on his nephew because she “knew the lifestyle.”

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