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Operating or Maintaining a Drug House

Review of HS 11366 Operate a Drug House Law and Defenses 

The crime of operating or maintaining a drug house in the state of California is defined under Health & Safety Code 11366 HS.

This statute, however, is not typically charged by itself, but rather in combination with other related drug crimes, such as HS 11351 possession with intent to sell controlled substances, and HS 11352 transportation of a controlled substances.

Operating or Maintaining a Drug House -  HS 11366
HS 11366 makes it a crime to maintain a place for the purpose of selling drugs.

Among the many drug laws in California is a specific statute that prohibits the operation of a so-called "drug house" in the state. HS 11366 is defined as:

  • “Any person who opens or maintains a place for the specific purpose of unlawfully selling, giving away, or using any controlled substance which is a narcotic drug classified in Schedule III, IV, or V.”

If you're suspected of maintaining a place for selling, giving away, or using illegal drugs, you could be charged with this crime, along with other crimes depending on the circumstances.

In order to be convicted of violating HSC 11366, the prosecutor must be able to prove you opened or maintained a place with the intent to sell or give away drugs or you allowed another person to do so.

Further, another element of the crime includes allowing other people to use drugs at the home, rather than selling them.

If convicted, you could be facing significant fines and jail time. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will take a closer look at the law below.

What Constitutes Operating a Drug House?

As noted, California's Health and Safety Code 11366 HS makes it a crime for someone to "open or maintain any place for the purpose of unlawfully selling, giving away, or using any controlled substance."

Such a place is typically referred to as a "drug house" which can include almost any location where you could sell drugs. The word "place" is used purposefully to encompass a wide range of situations.

Most drug houses are contained in houses or apartments, but any other "place" where controlled substances are used, sold, or distributed regularly can also be considered a drug house. Examples might include a:

  • home, 
  • hotel room,
  • apartment,
  • back room of a business,
  • trunk of one's car,
  • garage,
  • place of business fronted as something else (e.g., laundromat, salon) while drugs are sold behind the scenes.

Readers should note that prosecutors will only charge someone under Health & Safety Code 11366 when they allow people to sell or use controlled substances in a “place,” or they offer others to use the it to conduct drug transactions.

What are the Penalties If Convicted?

HS 11366 is a "wobbler" offense, meaning prosecutors can choose to charge it as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances and available evidence.

If you're charged with a misdemeanor, you could face:

  • 6 months in county jail, and
  • up to $1000 in fines.

If it's charged as a felony, a conviction could land you up to:

  • 3 years in a California state prison, and
  • up to $10,000 in fines.

Further, a convicted defendant could also face property forfeiture when the drug house was maintained for the illegal activity.

Put simply, the home could be confiscated under California's asset forfeiture laws.

Offenses Related to Operation of a Drug House

As noted, quite often, those who are accused of operating a drug house will also be charged with one or more related California offenses. These may include, but are not limited to:

Possession for Sale of a Controlled Substance (Health and Safety Code 11351 HS) - often charged when significant amounts of a drug are found at the suspected drug house site.

HS 11352 possession of drugs for sale is often charged in addition to operating a drug house.

Possession of a Controlled Substance (Health and Safety Code 11350(a) HS) - often charged when there is a smaller amount of the drug found at the drug house, i.e., not enough to prove a sale.

Sale or Transportation of a Controlled Substance (Health and Safety Code 11352 HS) - prohibits someone from selling, transporting, furnishing, administering or importing certain controlled substances at the suspected drug house.

Drugs in False Compartment (Health and Safety Code 11366.8 HS) - may be charged if law enforcement observes the use of a compartment for concealing illegal drugs in the alleged drug house, e.g., a secret compartment in a car or under a loose floorboard).

Rent Location for Illegal Drugs (Health and Safety Code 11366.5) – it's a crime for anyone who controls a space, building, or room, to knowingly rent or lease these locations for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, or distributing a controlled substance for sales or distribution.

Presence During Illegal Drug Use (Health and Safety Code 11365 HS) - a lesser offense in which people are present in a location where drug use is observed.

Manufacturing Narcotics (Health and Safety Code 11379.6 HS) - may be charged if law enforcement observes signs that drugs are being manufactured at the site of the alleged drug house, e.g., a meth lab.

Further, Health and Safety Code 11366.5(b) prohibits someone knowingly allowing a building, room, or space to be fortified in order to suppress law enforcement entry to further the sale of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine, and anyone who receives excessive profits for using the location.  

A conviction under this statute carries a sentence of up to 4 years in prison.

Since operating a drug house frequently involves many other crimes, people accused of operating a drug house often find themselves facing multiple charges, which can increase penalties and jail time if convicted.

On the other hand, many of the lesser charges may be used by skilled defense attorneys to negotiate for reduced charges or plea deals for the defendant.

Best Defenses for Operating a Drug House

To convict you of HS 11366 operating a drug house in California, prosecutors must demonstrate the following:

  • That you had a specific "place" for selling, giving away, or using drugs;
  • That this "place" existed to enable other people to obtain and use drugs (i.e., not for personal use); and
  • That this "place" was used for this purpose on a continuing or repeated basis (not one time).

Thus, most defenses against the charge of operating a drug house will revolve around refuting one of these key factors.

For example, your attorney may argue that the drugs found on the premises were for your personal use, not for others, or that the transaction that prompted the arrest was a one-time event, not "continual and repeated."

Best Defenses for Operating a Drug House Charges
There are several defense strategies we can use to fight the operating a drug house charges.

In others words, perhaps people only used your house once or twice and there simply was no continuous drug activity that is required to obtain a conviction.

Recall from the elements of the crime that only pursue charges of if the distribution of drugs at the drug house was an activity that occurred repeatedly.

Further, we might also be able to make an argument you didn't know other people were selling or using drugs in your home.

Additionally, law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search a suspected drug house, so if police conducted a search without a warrant (or outside the scope of the warrant), your attorney may be able to have the charges dismissed on the grounds of illegal search and seizure.

Finally, depending on the individual circumstances surrounding the arrest and lack of evidence, an attorney may be able to push for more serious charges to be dropped in favor of lesser charges.

For example, if you're charged with operating a drug house but there was only a minimum amount of the drug present during the search, your attorney may be able to have the charges reduced to simple possession.

Another defense strategy includes pursuing drug treatment as an alternative to jail.

Put simply, we could make an attempt to get the judge to order treatment where you get credit for this treatment in a detox or inpatient or outpatient facility, rather than serving jail time.

Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County and you can contact our law firm at (877) 781-1570 for an initial consultation.

We speak English, Russian, Armenian, and Spanish.

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