There is a truly bizarre case out of Ohio where Norman Gurley, 30, was arrested for having a hidden compartment in his car. However, there were no drugs or guns or anything illegal in the compartment. Indeed, there was nothing illegal in the car or on Gurley. However, just have a hidden compartment in your car can now be charged as a crime in Ohio. It is part of the expanding criminalization of America where virtually any act can be charged as a crime by police.
Once again, the fault for this arrest rests with legislators who give little thought to adding more crimes to their state codes, often at the request of police or prosecutors. In this case, the legislators added the following crime: “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.”
Note that prosecutors already have criminal enterprise and conspiracy laws to nail people involved in the drug trade. This crime turns on the dubious distinction of an intention to use the compartment for illegal purposes. Moreover, it allows for the proliferation of charges in cases where drugs are found. Instead of just being charged with the drug possession, intent to distribute, and other conventional charges, the Ohio prosecutors can add a charge for the actual compartment in the car. Such proliferation of counts allows prosecutors to force people to plead guilty to avoid long potential sentences.
Lt. Michael Combs said that the officers stopped the car and then noticed “components inside the vehicle that did not appear to be factory.” That led to a full search and arrest. Combs insisted “The law does help us and is on our side.” I am sure that it does. But giving police a myriad of ways to charge citizens hardly helps society. It encourages pretext stops and allows for full searches if police spot things that “do not appear to be factory.” We have previously discussed the problem of such pretextual stops. For a prior column, click here.