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This Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants to Throw Folks in Prison for Having Secret Car Compartments

This is your war on drugs...on drugs.

PoliceLisa F. YoungA hidden compartment in your car (or plane, or boat) could land you at least two years in prison in Massachusetts if a lawmaker gets his way.

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.

The bill does not require that there actually be contraband in the hidden compartment, only that a person's "intent" is to use it to transport illicit goods. Then there's this clarification in the section authorizing forfeiture:

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 bill defines a "hidden compartment" as any concealable storage space added to a vehicle after its purchase. The quoted section means that a defendant accused of violating this law is put in the position of having to prove a negative—that the compartment isn't intended to transport drugs.

Ohio has a similar law on the books already, and we saw the dangerous consequences in 2013. Norman Gurley was stopped by state troopers, who noticed some wires in the vehicle he was driving and discovered the car had a secret compartment. They found absolutely no drugs but arrested him anyway and charged him with violating Ohio's law against secret compartments.

Gurley's story quickly became national news, then faded as quickly as is it arrived. (Gurley's attorney, Myron Watson, did not return a call from Reason to find out what ultimately happened with the case. UPDATE: A reader directed me to the online case file and Gurley is set for a jury trial in December of this year, so it hasn't been resolved yet.) Now that his story is long forgotten, Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing their own version of a law that was criticized for violating due process, not to mention property rights. According to the State House News Service, Massachusetts state police officials are very much on board and are openly supporting the legislation.

Their support should come as no surprise, given that the law will allow police to keep any vehicle they seize. According to the property-rights-defending experts at the Institute for Justice, Massachusetts has the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country. Law enforcement officials need only reach the threshold of probable cause (the same threshold used to justify a search warrant) that somebody's property or money is connected to a crime in order to seize it. The state doesn't have to prove a citizen's guilt to keep the property; the citizen must prove his innocence to get it back. And under Massachusetts law, police get to keep 100 percent of what they seize, a huge financial incentive to claim that anyone they pull over and search is connected to the drug trade—at least if he has any possessions of value.

Police in Massachusetts already rake in millions of dollars a year from forfeitures. This bill would compound the problem. And it could send people to prison for drug crimes even if no one finds so much as a single joint or fentanyl tablet in their possession.

Photo Credit: Lisa F. Young

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  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Peoples Republic of Massachusetts awash in bad law, contemplating more. In other news, water found to be wet.

  • GroundTruth||

    One more reason that I'd love to leave this miserable state....

  • Libertarian||

    Look on the bright side: you're represented by a native American!

  • GroundTruth||

    Ug!

  • frankania||

    I was in PA in the 80's, building an underground concrete dome. So many "inspectors & bureaucrats" harassed me, that I finally gave up, sold my property and business, and moved to MEXICO. Since then, I have built 20 houses of my own design, mostly WITHOUT any permits or inspectors, sold or rented them without bureaucratic crap, and we live in a mansion in a perfect climate, in the mountains of central Mexico.
    So, you don't have to put up with BIG BROTHER, come on down, amigo!

  • target||

    what about the corrupt govt and cartells there? It is said that a countries prosparity comes from strong property rights, and Mexico doesn't seem to have the best track record.

  • Devastator||

    Tell us how cool it is when the drug lords move into your neighborhood and demand protection money from the guy living in the big house.

  • 1980-f||

    He's not replying. Cartels are holding him hostage.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Some states already have this law.

    Seems pretty unconstitutional to me but one would have to fight these types of criminal statutes in court to get them declared unconstitutional.

    compartment laws

  • SomeGuy||

    Seems? :/ More like self-evident -_-

  • The Last American Hero||

    It's not a drug smuggling compartment, it's where I keep my wallet when I drive in bad neighborhoods.

    It's not a drug smuggling compartment, it's where I keep my gummy bears so my damn kids don't eat them.

    It's not a drug smuggling compartment, it's where I keep my legally licensed firearm.

    How do you establish intent if there are no drugs in the car? Oh, yeah FYTW. My bad.

  • BearOdinson||

    I love how the law is initially for a hidden compartment designed to be used for carrying controlled substances. But then turns around and if you have a hidden compartment, it is prima facie evidence that it is intended to carry controlled substances.

    Criminal Intent? We don't need no stinking criminal intent!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    There is just no government interest in regulating compartments in vehicles.

    Someone just needs to fight this law and get it declared unconstitutional or Mass will keep bringing it up.

  • Rebel Scum||

    if you have a hidden compartment, it is prima facie evidence that it is intended to carry controlled substances.

    "Heads, I win. Tails, you lose."

  • Radioactive||

    are these high capacity compartments?

  • CE||

    It's not a drug smuggling compartment, it's where I keep my wallet when I drive in bad neighborhoods.

    So you admit you're concealing currency? We'll take that drug money.

  • Dillinger||

    and the car...

  • Citizen X - #6||

    And at least two years of your life.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    And a toe.

  • SomeGuy||

    and shoot your dog as it runs away.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Has anyone tried a defense on the basis that the police being aware of it make it not qualify as secret?

  • brokencycle||

    I came here to post similar. If the cops just casually notice wires leading to a secret compartment, it isn't very secret.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm guessing that's a non-starter. If they causally notice I'm carrying a gun because I didn't do a good job of concealing it, am I open-carrying which is legal without a permit?

  • CE||

    How can I be guilty of structuring financial deposits below the reporting limit to hide them from the IRS when the bank reports them to the IRS any way?

  • SomeGuy||

    structuring shouldn't even be a crime. Nothing wrong is being done. It is a 100% arbitrary law.

  • Cyto||

    Agreed - it is probably tied for the title of 'most execrable law in history'. The entire point of "structuring" is to legally avoid reporting requirements. So they declared that illegal.

    The correct answer would have been to require all transactions to be reported. But that would have gotten the attention of more of the plebes, and it would have made more work, rather than expanding their power.

    By pegging the reporting threshold at $10k, they have allowed inflation to move toward "all transactions are reportable" anyway. $10k in the 80's and $10k and 2020 are not the same thing at all.

  • dantheserene||

    At the moment I don't remember what year they started structuring, but when I looked it a while back the CPI calculator indicated that $10K at that time was equivalent to almost $70K now.
    Of course, *not* adjusting for inflation is most definitely a feature to those in power.

  • SomeGuy||

    very good point

  • Longtobefree||

    open or concealed, you have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
    Damn shame no one cares.

  • SomeGuy||

    ^^this

    Plus any weapon is fair game

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing their own version of a law that was criticized for violating due process,

    Make it about sex-trafficking... call it... a rape compartment, and everyone will be on board.

  • Radioactive||

    only if it's in violation of Title IX...

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • GroundTruth||

    " nor shall any person .... be deprived of ..... or property, without due process of law"

    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    What part of these is so hard to understand? Really, all you have to do is be able to read simple English.

    Happy Belated Independence Day all.

  • BYODB||

    Thank Wilson, 'living document' and all that. Plain meaning is out the window, and with it goes all natural rights.

    Thanks, Progressivism!

  • Cyto||

    Due process? They have a process..... if we like your car, you offer it up as tribute. Consider it paying your dues to society.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

  • Careless||

    The DeLorean, made by a guy later busted for drugs, has a number of secret compartments

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Lots of cars do. My '88 Hyundai had 3 of them - one in each rear quarter panel, and a locking compartment under the front passenger seat. All factory installed.

  • Finrod||

    This makes me want to steal this fuckwit legislator's car, install a secret compartment in it, then nark on him to the cops without the cops knowing who it is. Let him deal with the fucked-up consequences of his own law.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    He wouldn't learn anything from that. To him, that would be like you killing someone and planting the body in his trunk. He didn't put it there, so there's no lesson to be gleaned. What needs to happen is his car needs to be pulled over, repeatedly while state troopers look for a secret compartment.

  • Finrod||

    He won't learn anything anyways. I just want to use his own bill to make his life a living hell, in exchange for him trying to do the same to us.

  • LarryA||

    Then don't install a secret compartment. Narc him and watch the cops tear his car apart looking for one.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Exactly.

  • ||

    Narc him and watch the cops tear his car apart looking for one.

    Not on him either. You'll really just be hassling whatever limo service he uses. Judges, Local DAs, and lower-level clerks who prosecute based on these charges is who needs to be targeted. Fill their docket with these cases and then knee-cap them by forcing them to do it to their own.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Two words: Prosecutorial discretion.

    Charges will be dropped for the politically well-connected.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Damn fascists trying to criminalize the fact that I make hidey-holes in everything I own so I can sleep in a constricted environment.

  • Jerryskids||

    If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear. And if you've got nothing to hide, why would you need a place to hide it? Trying to hide stuff from the police so they don't steal it is all the justification they need to steal it, just as running from the police for fear they'll shoot you is all the justification they need to shoot you.

  • Zippy||

    Is this intentional trolling or are you truly uninformed ... and if the latter, why are you reading Reason? Having cash on you that is completely legal is not safe. Police now ask whether people they pull over have cash on them and if so frequently seize it. They need only assert that they believe the money is connected to a crime. They do not even charge 80% of the people from whom they seize money and possessions. It is then up to the owners to prove they legally own the assets. There are plenty of reasons to want to hide money from police as well as other criminals. Incidentally, police are now also seizing money from prepaid credit cards. They also take jewelry and many other possessions. No conviction necessary - it is not criminal asset forfeiture, it's civil asset forfeiture. There were some mild reforms during the Obama Administration but Jeff Sessions has rolled them all back. You are on the right website to learn about all the things one has to legitimately fear from police so enjoy your reading.

  • King's Ransom||

    They should just cut to the chase and criminalize all secrets of any sort

  • saguaro||

    I have a secret compartment in my woodchipper.

  • Radioactive||

    I keep my secret compartment in my underwear...

  • target||

    don't say that, they will take you to the hospital where you will be drugged, probed, and charged for the privilage.

  • Rebel Scum||

    designed for the purpose of secretly transporting drugs and related contraband, equipment, currency, or weapons.

    In other words, not limited to things that are already illegal to possess and transport. These fuckers want everything to be illegal.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    My defense in court would be that gold is not currency.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Especially when it disappears on its way to the evidence locker.

  • creech||

    Does anyone recall what happened to those Redcoats who went looking for hidden compartments in Lexington and Concord? This Hay dude would have been tarred, feathered and run out of Massachusetts on a rail back in 1775.
    Now he is some kind of distinguished Honorable legislator.

  • 1980-f||

    Did Massachusetts have railways in 1775? They were well ahead of the rest of us.

  • Uncommon sense||

    Stephen Hay, you sir are a fucking monster and if something terrible happens to you the world will be a better for it if only for the time it takes these worthless voters to elect another monster.

  • Jerry on the sea||

    This would never happen in Somalia.

  • Radioactive||

    too many secret compartments?

  • timbo||

    In other news:
    Q Branch was just buried under a Mass. jail.

  • Jerryskids||

    So if the cops pull you over and can't find a secret compartment, is that prima facie evidence that you have a secret compartment so well-hidden that the cops can't find it? "Didn't find a secret compartment? Your Honor, we didn't find dozens of secret compartments - this guy's obviously a kingpin of some sort!"

  • Dillinger||

    holy shit that's funny.

  • Longtobefree||

    Not to mention terrifying - keep checking the public records to see if you get quoted correctly - - - - -

  • Rat on a train||

    Staying out of Massachusetts is also proof that you are hiding contraband.

  • SRVolunteer||

    3 of the 4 cars in my family were used when we got them.

    A hidden compartment could be in any of the three and I would not know about it. I'm not even trained to find them as the police presumably are.

    Is the responsibility on me to determine that no secret compartment exists in the used car I'm purchasing? Am I protected if I get my car from among the many seized by the police and sold at one of their auctions?

    This law seems purposefully designed to come down hard on poor people who are much more likely to have used cars, particularly folks in poverty or near-poverty.

    Those liberals in MA sure are compassionate, ain't they?

  • Cyto||

    This is the exact scenario involved in the first "asset forfeiture" case I ever heard about. It was on a 20/20 episode back in the 80's. Louisiana had one of the first and worst versions of this law (which everyone else has dutifully copied). The story covered the case of a lady who had bought a big, white Lincoln Continental at auction. As she was driving it home along a section of I10 that was reputedly "known to be frequented by drug traffickers", she was pulled over and her car was taken because there was a hole cut in the corner of the floor of the trunk under the carpet. Proof that the car was "used in drug smuggling".

    They covered the fact that the police, prosecutor and judges who were responsible for enforcing the law and protecting her rights all shared equally in the seizure of money through asset forfeiture. And she had to post a bond equal to the value of the car in order to contest the seizure (which she'd also lose if the judge who was going to get 1/3 of the take ruled against her).

    Then 20/20 went the extra mile and bought a similar car and drove it down the same hunk of interstate. With hidden cameras rolling and the car stubbornly going the speed limit - up rolled the sheriff's boys. They pulled up, around, back.... checking out the car. Finally they pulled them over. And said they were speeding. No, wait... changing lanes erratically. All complete lies, as proven on video.

    Back then it was a story of "local corruption".

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    This is why you should never buy a used car. You may have no idea if it has any secret compartments or hidden drugs or drug residue that could land you in prison.

  • Cyto||

    Well, to be fair, every vehicle from a region that has plants is likely to have visible evidence of "shake" in the footwell.

  • Don't look at me.||

    So tear apart any used car you buy to make sure it has no secret compartment.

  • Rhywun||

    "That's the glove compartment, officer."
    "Now I've heard everything. Hands in the air!"

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    You know who else went looking for secret compartments?

  • Dillinger||

    Indiana Jones?

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    Jim McNulty?

  • Dillinger||

    pig latin

  • ||

    The bill defines a "hidden compartment" as any concealable storage space added to a vehicle after its purchase.

    If I'm a trooper couldn't I interpret that as: the compartment doesn't have to be hidden, only concealable. Well, the toolboxes that install in the bed of a pickup, right behind the cab or the storage bins that install on roof racks keep their contents "concealed".

    Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but what about homemade speaker boxes or modifications such as drawers and storage bins that are made to work or recreational vans and SUVs for tools or outdoor gear.

    What about tricked-out cars with big screen TVs, massive sound systems and hydraulics that are built to be concealed. What about a hidden safe in an RV for cash and valuables on cross country trips (for retired couples not Walter White).

    If police can use suggestible dogs to sniff for suspicious smells, I'd be just as worried about a police department's interpretation of hidden compartments.

    "That looks like a factory installed speakerbox, son"
    "No, I made it myself."
    "What's in it?"
    "Speakers."
    "What else?"

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    The bill defines a "hidden compartment" as any concealable storage space added to a vehicle after its purchase.

    So if you hook up one of those collapsible camper trailers to your tow hitch, is that a concealable storage space you've added to the vehicle after purchase?

  • Longtobefree||

    If the cop doesn't like your attitude over the broken taillight, then yes.

  • SomeGuy||

    If i was a cop...I would be the biggest trolling asshole possible.

    I would ticket and arrest everyone and explain to them. If you don't like this obvious bullshit law I am trolling you with...lobby to get this awful laws removed. Otherwise I will keep arresting everyone for this stupid stuff.

    I honestly wish cops would be the most aggressive assholes in the world about laws because that seems to be the only way that the average joe gives a shit.

  • Tony||

    Yes, your honor, it is our belief that the Massachusetts drug trade primarily traffics using expensive German cars. And a Hummer for Sgt. McGee over there.

  • Cloudbuster||

    So Sgt. McGee's on the vice squad?

  • Sugarsail||

    We only need one law in the land and that is the "don't be a douche bag" law. The penalty for conviction would be death but you'd have to have a unanimous decision by a jury of 12 of your actual peers (not just little old ladies from the retirement home). To get 12 people to agree on you being a dbag, you'd have to be a pretty huge dbag to deserve capital punishment but I suspect this legislator would be sweating it.

  • sarcasmic||

    People who double-post are douche bags.

  • SomeGuy||

    blame the squirrels

  • Cloudbuster||

    Squirrels are douchebags.

  • Sugarsail||

    We only need one law in the land and that is the "don't be a douche bag" law. The penalty for conviction would be death but you'd have to have a unanimous decision by a jury of 12 of your actual peers (not just little old ladies from the retirement home). To get 12 people to agree on you being a dbag, you'd have to be a pretty huge dbag to deserve capital punishment but I suspect this legislator would be sweating it.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    They pass these laws not because they expect the laws to have any effect on behavior (those who want secret compartments will just get more clever at concealing them) but to provide yet another way to fund municipalities and give the cops free cars. Further evidence if any were needed that power corrupts. Absolutely

  • SomeGuy||

    its all about making more crimes so it is easier to get plea deals and stack charges over charges so no one can get off the hook.

    Same thing they did for body armor. I think in IL if you commit a crime in body armor it is an instant 10 year jail sentence.

    Another reason I don't wear my body armor because If i break any law I am instantly going to prison for 10 years.

    So another way honest citizens because easier targets for fear of being a target of BS criminal charges.

    Illegal to wear body armor on school grounds. So not only can't you carry...you cant even wear body armor. So you are totally fucked.
    https://tinyurl.com/yazscl33

    even possessing it in a crime is criminal in some states. You dont even need to be wearing it -_-
    https://tinyurl.com/kqdpcpy

    It may be a crime in IL just to have a gun and body armor at the same time?
    https://tinyurl.com/y7zbvga2
    https://tinyurl.com/ydazqbb6

    None the less...it is ridiculous

  • rageon||

    Um, call me crazy, but if the police can find the compartment, doesn't that prove that it's not actually "secret"?

  • Don't look at me.||

    Well, not anymore.

  • IMissLiberty||

    Thought crimes. Hum. If I dream it, is it real?
    So here's the question: does it matter if the owner of the vehicle knows there is a compartment? How about the driver? It sounds like all those civil asset vehicles stolen by the police could lay them open to charges under this idea (I won't call it a "law" as unconstitutional "laws" are null and void). I would certainly refuse to buy any used vehicle without a thorough inspection.

  • SomeGuy||

    Drives does not need to know about it. Just like someone hiding drugs under your car. If you get pulled over and they find the drugs you will be charged.

    Partly why i dont lend my car to people anymore. Not like I am worried about my friends leaving anything....I just am not going to chance it.

    Really wish I grew weed or some other drug so I could plant drugs in everyone's car in a hidden spot and watch everyone get arrested.

    Hopefully there would be enough lives ruined to get the law over turned.

    *hint* anymore run a detail business? Start planting drugs in everyones cars!

  • Longtobefree||

    Hopefully there would be enough lives ruined to get the law over turned.

    Good luck with that. All the ruined lives would prove the need for more funding and larger staffs.

  • SomeGuy||

    not really...there is a threshold where the average go starts to give a shit and sadly that threshold is very high.

  • SomeGuy||

    average joe*

  • Bubba Jones||

    So I go to jail if I install an aftermarket storage box in my Jeep?

  • SomeGuy||

    if it is "hidden" yes

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    And by 'hidden' the law means 'concealable'. So if your storage box is small enough that a tarp will cover it, you're fucked.

  • SomeGuy||

    Genius!

  • tommhan||

    GEEZE!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a stupid law. That is sure not freedom when they can just guess what your intent was for an empty space and lock you up.

  • Tionico||

    hidden compartment designed for the purpose of secretly transporting drugs and related contraband, equipment, currency, or weapons

    FOR THE PURPOSE OF.... now HOW can they prove what my intent, or "purpose" was when the compartment was built?

  • Longtobefree||

    The same way they 'know' you are going to use all that cash to buy drugs and not a car or house or whatever.

  • Simon Prophet||

    Stephan Hay is an enemy to all free thinking people. Jail is a suitable place for haters of freedom.

  • Bag Filtration Housings||

    Trying to hide stuff from the police so they don't steal it is all the justification they need to steal it, just as running from the police for fear they'll shoot you is all the justification they need to shoot you.

  • Arcxjo||

    Woe to the Taxachussetan who buys a car used.

  • Rogers1234||

    If I were a judge, I'd ignore the mandatory minimum

  • Longtobefree||

    So the English language has gone the way of logic and reason.
    If the cops find it, it is not a secret.
    If the cops do not find it, it is not a violation.
    And on what probable cause would they look for something that is not there? (I know, irrelevant).
    Go see Alice, when she's ten feet tall.

  • Devastator||

    This right here is why I completely dissociate myself from the Republicans. They claim to be for more freedom, yet consistently they fold to the law and private prison lobby to imprison more and more people in a penal system that even dwarfs a so called human rights "criminal" regime like China. It's insanity. They really need to quit being cock holsters for the lobbyists from the police associations that have come to depend on kickbacks from private prisons and big pharma companies that want to keep opiates flowing and addiction increasing.

  • Longtobefree||

    I think the last republican to claim to be for more freedom was Ike.
    Both the democrats and the republicans are for more government, more regulation, more federal control over state (or God forbid, local!) functions, and eventually taxes to pay for it.
    All that differs is which parts of the government they want increased, and what types of taxes they want to raise to pay for it.
    So the real question is exactly what is Trump?

  • mysmartstuffs||

    open or concealed, you have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
    Damn shame no one cares.
    My recent post: ShopiRater Review
    My recent post: CPA Tactics Review

  • mysmartstuffs||

    Um, call me crazy, but if the police can find the compartment, doesn't that prove that it's not actually "secret"?
    My recent post: Product Lab Review

  • ||

    I have a secret compartment inside of my secret compartment. Does that count as two violations?

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