Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants To Make It A Felony To Have Secret Compartments In Your Car

from the big-problems,-small-minds dept

A Massachusetts lawmaker is looking to give law enforcement another way to bust people and seize vehicles. Modify a vehicle you own in a certain way and you can expect to never see that vehicle again.

Blame it on the war on drugs and pressure from law enforcement lobbying. Stephan Hay, a Democrat state representative for Fitchburg, has introduced a bill that would criminalize operating a vehicle with a hidden compartment designed for the purpose of secretly transporting drugs and related contraband, equipment, currency, or weapons.

The bill, H.1266, separately criminalizes the process of altering a vehicle with the intent of creating such hidden compartments. In each case the bill calls for a two-year mandatory minimum sentence, five years for subsequent offenses. The bill also allows police to seize the modified vehicle.

Notably, the bill wouldn’t limit “secret compartment” busts to those containing contraband. The presence of an aftermarket “concealed storage space” is enough to trigger an arrest and seizure. The state would have to prove there was intent to use the compartment to store contraband, but the wording in the bill [PDF] flips the burden of proof when it comes to the vehicle itself.

Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence that the conveyance was used intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances.

As Reason’s Scott Shackford points out, Massachusetts already has the worst forfeiture laws in the nation. This built-in presumption of guilt only makes this worse. Defendants will start out in the hole, asked to prove a negative simply to have a small shot at recovering their seized vehicle. Unknowingly purchase someone’s drug-running vehicle? It’s as good as gone if the police discover any secret compartments. Seeing as criminal charges would result in something more aligned with due process, it will come as zero surprise if the law is used to seize vehicles but leave prima facie “drug traffickers” otherwise unharmed.

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Comments on “Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants To Make It A Felony To Have Secret Compartments In Your Car”

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69 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I lose everything but my Harley

But on the "good news" front, there are going to be a LOT of vehicles for sale at the next police auction…

That sounds like a continuous cash stream. Seize the vehicle. Sell it off at the police auction (keeping careful records on who purchases the impounded vehicle). Then a couple of months later, pull over the purchaser for a minor infraction, "discover" the hidden compartment, and sieze the vehicle to start the cycle over again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I lose everything but my Harley

Simple solution to that. If you purchase an impounded vehicle,
register it out of state. If you own property in another state, use that address to register the vehicle, and also get a drivers license in that state, instead of Massachussets.

This is why rich people will not be as affected. Just simply buy a home in another state, and use that address to register the vehicle, and then get a drivers license in that state

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Magnetic Key Hider

Where do you get this?

If the Walmart link is simply too much for you, then let me google that for you.

Looks like Home Depot has another brand listed for $2.58: “This item is available in stores.”

Some reviewers recommend avoiding the cheaper ones, and getting a high quality one from an auto parts store. Advance AutoParts carries one from AutoCraft. It’s listed at $3.99, so maybe it’s much better quality.

“Magnetic base firmly secures to metal surfaces. Designed to hold keys, money or other items.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Magnetic Key Hider

That would be enough. You could after all hide some drugs in it!!! Your guilty!!! Now try to prove me wrong? How would you do that? Your word that you never used it for drugs? HAHAHAAHAHA So your car is now stolen by the police. If it’s not paid off, you’ll be paying the bill as the police use it for other things and finally sell it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Magnetic Key Hider

That would be enough.

Yes, indeed. From the Massachussetts bill

(a) Definition: As used in this section, the term “hidden compartment” shall be defined as any after-market hidden or secret compartment that … and has been installed in or attached to a conveyance…

(Emphasis added.)

Attached magnetically would be “attached”.

Also from the bill, in (d) —

Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence

(Emphasis added again.)

Testimony that a magnetic key hider was magnetically attached to a car could be supplemented with twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows showing exactly where the key hider was found magnetically attached to a car.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Magnetic Key Hider

Sounds like some noble group could bulk purchase or produce a number of these magnetic holders and place them on every single government vehicle they come across. Citizens being up in arms over all cop cars having these yet not being seized will make all of the people who have their cars seized for key holders, angry enough to revolution

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'Possession of a kitchen knife is evidence that the accused intended to murder someone with it.'

And how do they prove that this is the purpose it was designed for?

That’s the ‘great’ thing, they don’t have to.

‘Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence that the conveyance was used intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances.

The mere existence of the compartment is ‘proof’ that it was intended for concealing illegal activity/items, and it’s up to the (former) owner to prove that it wasn’t.

z! (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Possession of a kitchen knife is evidence that the accused intended to murder someone with it.'

Or from the other side, if you found the compartment, it wasn’t secret, was it?. A secret is only a secret if the other person doesn’t know about it.

Perhaps the gentleman from Massachusetts means hidden…but then pretty much all cars have spaces that would count as hidden.

Anonymous Coward says:

Also, what about cars that inadvertently already have “hidden compartments”?

My wife’s Lexus SUV allows you to remove the center plastic cupholder assembly (presumably for cleaning, and there’s a large cavity underneath that she often hides stuff in that she doesn’t want people to find with a cursory search of the glovebox.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That is also good for hiding an extra cell phone for tracking purposes, not just for if, a cop seizes your vehicle, but also if a thief takes it, I can locate it and go get it myself.

Someone once took my car on a joyride, and I was able to use Find My Android to go where they left it and get it back, no need to call police.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Aren’t some ‘compartments’ made simply by ripping off interior paneling?

So… LEO searches your car -> breaks off panel looking for nonexistant contraband -> your car now has a “secret compartment” -> you’re now operating an illegal vehicle which is now seized as you’re arrested.

And of course cops will be considered exempt from “altering with intent to create” part.

Mononymous Tim (profile) says:

My car has a compartment off the right side of the trunk for the battery, which you get to by pulling off part of the side. The cover blends in so well that the only obvious indication is the two depressions to grab and pull with.

So according to Stephan Hay, the serious offense of automotive battery smuggling is a thing now ..and I’m guilty!

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The proposed law specifies an aftermarket concealed storage space. If it originally came with the car, it’s OK.

Of course if your DieselGate vehicle is repaired with urea-based selective catalytic reduction – and they hide the diesel exhaust fluid tank rather than have it take up your trunk – that’s aftermarket concealed storage. Massachusetts will have access to a database of cars with this modification.

Massachusetts Police gonna get themselves some Volkswagens!

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Might as well extrapolate ridiculously, just to see where reality will be in 5 years:

a) A driver must be in the car to operate it.
b) A driver is definitely an ‘aftermarket’ item.
c) A driver can swallow condoms/balloons full of, say, heroin.
d) The inside of the human body isn’t visible with the naked eye.
e) Cops now own all the cars.

Forrest G. says:

War On Intelligent Thinking

See subject header.

There is no hope or help for this stupid machine called guvmint and crooks who benefit as the result of their ineptness, cruelty, stupidity.

As the former AG under Bush said, “The Constitution is a quaint document.”

The F…… Bunch of Iiots, or FBI, now regards anyone who cites the Constitution to be terrorists, when they are not busy entrapping the mentally challenged.

Anonymous Coward says:

I knew it!

Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence that the conveyance was used intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances.

Proof that many new cars are "intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances"!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You find out where the videotape machines are that are recording from the cameras, then you break in their and erase all the tapes with a degguasser, eliminating all video evidence.

There would be a monitoring room, just break in there and destroy the video evidence against you that has been recorded.

Then they will have no case against you without that evidence.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: In for a penny...

And if they try to stop you from leaving via a plane after you stole you car back, were arrested for it, made bail and then skipped out on court just hijack the plane and fly to another country.

And if they try to have the police in another country arrest you and extradite you back for hijacking a plane sneak on to a shuttle to the international space station where man’s puny laws don’t apply.

And then when they try to get you there take the shuttle and fly to the moon and set up a base where you can definitely get away this time.

/s, just in case it wasn’t obvious enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Your cupholder

Theoretically, several Chevrolet models, from 2006 to around 2015 could be illegal.

That is becuase the space beneath the cupholder could be used to hide stuff.

I know this becuase when I had my 2005 Cobalt, I woudl keep all of my credit cards and most of my bank cards hidden there, when on trips, as well as my casino winnings in Nevada, when I hit a $200 jackpot on a poker machine, just in case I did get stopped, so no cop would ever find my cash.

I also kept my cards hidden there when travelling to places where the ERAD might be used, so if any cop had stopped me and wanted to see my cards, I could show just the one credit card I had in my shirt pockets, and the any cop had asked if any had any more cards, I would have lied to him and said no I did not.

Fortunately I did not have such an encounter, but I was well prepared.

The space beneath the cupholder in those models is very handy, not just to hide stuff from cops, but also to foil any car burglars as well.

Anon says:

Should we be shocked?

This is already the law in a large number of states. In fact, there’s a guy in prison, sentenced to decades of incarceration, because he made aftermarket hidden compartments. The feds threatened to jail him for conspiracy to traffic drugs, even though they knew he didn’t traffic, if he didn’t hand over his complete customer list. If he did, some of them might not appreciate it. SO instead, he kept quiet and a customer who cut a deal and lied sent him to jail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"Officer, I bought this car used, I did not know it had this compartment"….

Wex [LII]: prima facie:

Latin for "at first sight." Prima facie may be used as an adjective meaning "sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted;" e.g., prima facie evidence. . . .

dictionary.law.com: prima facie:

(pry-mah fay-shah) adj. Latin for "at first look," or "on its face," referring to a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the evidence before trial is sufficient to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial. . . .

Flakbait (profile) says:

Not a new idea

This has been on the books in Ohio for 5 years (http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2923.241).

link

Here’s the gist of it:

(B) No person shall knowingly design, build, construct, or fabricate a vehicle with a hidden compartment, or modify or alter any portion of a vehicle in order to create or add a hidden compartment, with the intent to facilitate the unlawful concealment or transportation of a controlled substance.

(C) No person shall knowingly operate, possess, or use a vehicle with a hidden compartment with knowledge that the hidden compartment is used or intended to be used to facilitate the unlawful concealment or transportation of a controlled substance.

(D) No person who has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a violation of aggravated trafficking in drugs under section 2925.03 of the Revised Code that is a felony of the first or second degree shall operate, possess, or use a vehicle with a hidden compartment.

(E) Whoever violates division (B) of this section is guilty of designing a vehicle with a hidden compartment used to transport a controlled substance. Except as otherwise provided in this division, designing a vehicle with a hidden compartment used to transport a controlled substance is a felony of the fourth degree. If the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a violation of division (B) of this section, designing a vehicle with a hidden compartment used to transport a controlled substance is a felony of the third degree.

And yep, it’s being used: link

Com says:

Not a new idea, plus more

Like Flakbait says, this is not a new idea… it’s a crime in a number of states (I’m not taking the time to do a survey of them), you can add Georgia to that list O.C.G.A. 16-11-112 (felony as well).

The original post misses the bigger issue, which is that presumptions in criminal law are [almost] always unconstitutional (someone less lazy can find the cite… Volokh Conspiracy has addressed this before).

And as always, civil forfeiture laws are a form of theft.

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