Drug War

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.

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  1. Note to self: when making a secret compartment in my car, remember to disguise evidence of the secret compartment’s existence. Such as exposed wires obviously running through the car.

  2. Exposed wires make me think it was stereo related. Like the previous owner had a hundred disk changer in the back or something.

    1. Nobody needs more than seven disks in his car.

      1. This is brilliance. I genuflect.

  3. If this is the same post we read about this last time, shouldn’t Warty get another hat tip?

    And if this wasn’t the same post, that would be kinda weird.

    …if, like, Warty sends something in to Hit & Run, Hit & Run puts up a post about it, someone in the MSM reads about it on Hit & Run, so they put up a post about it in the MSM, then someone at Hit & Run who didn’t see the post the first time reads about it in the media, puts up a post at Hit & Run, and then Warty reads about it again.

    1. That is how Time Suits get assembled…paradox by paradox.

  4. How many people in Ohio do you think even know this law exists (well, now they probably know, but prior to this incident….)?

    Lots of used cars are gonna have compartments for shit like CD changes and sub-woofers and the like.

    1. If they don’t have anything to hide, then they don’t have anything to worry about.

      Wait, that doesn’t work in this case.

      If they have nothing to hide, they don’t have anything to worry about?

      Nah, that doesn’t do it either. Here it is:

      If they have nothing to hide, then they should be worried about it.

      There, I nailed it!

    2. I hadn’t heard of this law before this story. I usually am pretty up on how my government is trying to reduce my rights, but I had no idea about this.

      I don’t read lawspeak, so reading through the actual bill didn’t do me much good. It seems like it’s worded loosely enough that the cops could claim that an empty spare tire well could be used for drug smuggling and therefor be a felony. Don’t remove your spare tire, folks. That’s modifying a compartment in your car.

  5. I mean, theoretically, people could buy used cars with secret compartments and not know it.

    In fact, there’s nothing theoretical about it. People will buy used cars with secret compartments without knowing it.

    1. We’d better ban the sale of used cars. For the children.

      1. Oh fuck. Hoping there are no car company lobbyists reading this blog right now…

  6. You would think that a judge would slap down this law, and the search conducted of the car, as blatantly unconstitutional on numerous counts:

    “Really? You allegedly smelled marijuana that did not in fact exist at all, and used that as the basis to conduct the search that did not find marijuana, but that did find a hidden compartment that you said could be used to transport the marijuana that you didn’t find?”

    1. It was the next logical step in the progression from requiring you to buy something you don’t need.

      Once they can require you to buy something you don’t need, why shouldn’t they be able to arrest you for something you don’t have?

      Logically, the next step is to require us to buy something that doesn’t exist.

      1. Affordable health insurance?

      2. I think the logical next step is to require you to buy something you don’t need, and then arrest you for having it.

    2. A jury should follow that line of reasoning, but judges are just government lawyers. It’s a very rare judge who gives a shit about justice.


  7. “The troopers noticed a smell of raw marijuana, which led them to perform a search of the car,” Combs said.

    Any time one of theses scumbag motherfuckers makes this claim, the defense should be allowed to put him through the drug dog certification test.

    1. It shouldn’t be limited to drugs, either. In one class in law school, we studied raids of porn theaters by vice squads, and one cop had claimed to have “20/20 hearing” and to be able to tell by the sound when someone in the theater was unzipping. Oh, yeah? Well, then, let’s just take this little blindfolded test to prove that you can.

  8. Combs added that they found evidence that the car was being used to transport drugs, but the evidence is not detailed.

    Yes it was. The evidence is the secret compartment. Duh.

  9. $50 says this was a pretext stop. The police had a tip about this vehicle and wanted to search it, so they trumped up a reason for the stop and then fabricated probable cause. When they whiffed on finding actual drugs (or cash), they conveniently had this ridiculous new law to fall back on.

    1. I dunno. To me it sounds a lot like contempt of cop. He got all uppity and asserted his rights or failed to cooperate to the satisfaction of the officers, so they decided to ruin his life. Happens every day.

  10. the evidence is not detailed.

    The car reeked of marijuana. REEEEKED!

    What further evidence could possibly be required?

  11. So someone goes down and buys a high mileage used car that was once used to transport drugs out of Mexico and thus contains a secret compartment. They have, by the letter of this law, committed a felony by owning the car.

    This is the effect of prosecutors and cops being lazy. There is at some level logic to this law. The idea is to make it illegal for people to construct cars specifically designed to commit crimes. I think that is dumb because I don’t agree with the drug laws. But if I did, I could see why you would want such a law. But even if you do want such a law, the law only makes sense and is only just if it is a specific intent crime, meaning the government has to prove that you knew about the compartment and created it for the specific purpose of committing a crime. But proving specific intent crimes is hard. And cops and prosecutors are lazy and often stupid, so they hate specific intent crimes. They like general intent or strict liability crime. Hell, even the dumbest prosecutor can prove the compartment is there and that the defendant owned the car. So, since prosecutors own the legislature, legislatures increasingly only pass strict liability criminal statutes. And we end up with injustices like this.

    1. Mens rea is so quaint.

    2. So someone goes down and buys a high mileage used car that was once used to transport drugs out of Mexico and thus contains a secret compartment. They have, by the letter of this law, committed a felony by owning the car.

      And it was probably the cops or Feds selling the car in the first place as a result of asset forfeiture.

      1. Very true. So the cops are now in the business of selling felonies in Ohio.

        1. It’s a win-win! For the cops.

        2. Then they seize the car and sell it again

        3. Just realized this can be a huge profit-making machine for the cops. The seize a car with secret compartments and sell the car. Then they track the car and seize it from the new owner for having secret compartments. Lather, rinse, repeat.

          1. Why not? They already do that with guns and drugs.

    3. I believe that the law does include a “with intent” part and is not strict liability (though obviously that won’t stop cops from fucking you over if they feel like it), but I’m not sure on the distinction between specific intent and general intent.

  12. How on earth is this statute possibly anything remotely resembling something that might be constitutional? I know about the FYTW clause of the Constitution, but is there anything else? (Seriously. I should know this stuff, I even got a perfect score on the Constitutional Law section of the multistate exam the last time I took the bar exam. Still have no clue)

    1. I dunno. States can mostly make whatever laws they want, can’t they? General police powers.

  13. Humans have secret compartments, too, says New Mexico.

    1. The obvious answer is to make having a body a felony. Then the Golden Age will begin.

  14. So, in Ohio, it’s illegal to hide things. No, wait, it’s illegal to be able to hide things. I sure am glad I never wanted to go to Ohio, that’ll make it’s inclusion on my no-fly list much, much easier.

  15. I use them for smuggling. I never thought I’d be smuggling myself in them. This is ridiculous.

  16. What if he had a secret compartment in his jockey shorts? Could they use their noses to detect any drugs there too?

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