Yes, a Man in Ohio Is Facing Prison Time Entirely for Having a Secret Car Compartment

Norman Gurley faces up to 18 months if convicted


Nobody whose logo looks like this should be accusing anybody else of drug-related offenses
Credit: Inventorchris / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Norman Gurley, whom I noted last week was arrested in northern Ohio for violating the state's new statute prohibiting secret compartments in cars (if authorities determine they're being used for transporting drugs) faces a preliminary hearing tomorrow at Oberlin Municipal Court. According to court documents, Ohio Highway Patrol officers weren't kidding when they said they'd have nothing on Gurley if they hadn't found the compartment. The one count of violating Ohio's hidden compartment law is the only charge levied against Gurley.

Even though Gurley's preliminary hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, Oberlin's site does not list an attorney for the man to try to contact. Several commenters (and e-mailers) are curious as to how the troopers justified the search. You can probably guess, but if not, The Morning Journal of … somewhere nearby (dear small media outlets: Please indicate where the hell you are on your websites and not assume that visitors already know (Update: Lorain, Ohio)) got some comments from Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Michael Combs:

"The troopers noticed a smell of raw marijuana, which led them to perform a search of the car," Combs said. "While searching, they saw some indicators that led them to believe a secret compartment may have been added to the car."

So the officers were able to smell raw marijuana while standing outside the vehicle, but they weren't able to find any during their search. Those are some strong noses. I bet they don't even need police dogs up there in Ohio. Combs added that they found evidence that the car was being used to transport drugs, but the evidence is not detailed.

Violating Ohio's hidden compartment law is a fourth degree felony, meaning a judge could sentence Gurley to up to 18 months in prison if convicted. If the defendant had been previously convicted (apparently not the case with Gurley) the crime becomes a third-degree felony, leading to a sentence of up to three years. If it turns out there are drugs in the hidden compartment, the crime becomes a second degree felony with a potential sentence of up to five years in prison.

Once Reason passed along the story on Thursday it spread fast and quickly on the Internet through social media. I'll do my best to try to keep an eye on the case (from all the way out here in California), and when Gurley gets an attorney, I'll see if he or she is willing to comment.