Norman Gurley, 30, is facing drug-related charges in Lorain County, Ohio, despite the fact that state troopers did not actually find any drugs in his possession.
Ohio passed a law in 2012 making it a felony to alter a vehicle to add a secret compartment with the “intent” of using it to conceal drugs for trafficking.
Gurley is the first actual person arrested under the law. WKYC in Northeast Ohio covered the arrest, with no notable journalistic skepticism whatsoever:
They pulled over the driver for speeding, but then troopers noticed several wires running to the back of the car.
Those wires then led them directly to a hidden compartment.
Around 5 p.m. on Tuesday state troopers made the arrest under the law, which is meant to combat criminals who modify the inside of their car, allowing them to store drugs or weapons inside secret compartments, which can often only be accessed electronically.
They just noticed some wires, did they? Just while in the process of handing Gurley a speeding ticket, they noticed the wires?
They did not, however, find any drugs, which means they’re arresting Gurley for the crime of an empty space:
Troopers arrested 30-year-old Norman Gurley, who didn’t even have any drugs on him, but it didn’t matter, because in Ohio, just driving a “trap” car is now a felony.
“Without the hidden compartment law, we would not have had any charges on the suspect,” says Combs.
But because of this law, one more “trap car” is now off Northeast Ohio roads.
“We apparently caught them between runs, so to speak, so this takes away one tool they have in their illegal trade. The law does help us and is on our side,” says Combs.
Combs’ claim is not challenged by the news station at all.
The law says it’s only a crime if the hidden compartment is added with the “intent” to conceal drugs, but it also outlaws anybody who has been convicted of felony aggravated drug trafficking laws from operating any vehicle with hidden compartments. The ACLU of Ohio warned against the new legislation:
The ACLU of Ohio believes SB 305 is an unnecessary and unproductive expansion of law. Drug trafficking is already prohibited under Ohio law, so there is no use for shifting the focus to the container. Further by focusing on the container itself, this bill criminalizes a person with prior felony drug trafficking convictions simply for driving a car with a hidden compartment, regardless of whether or not drugs or even drug residue are present.
Given this is the first arrest, you have to wonder how the courts might view a law making it a felony to alter a person’s own property for reasons that have nothing to do with actual public safety. Maybe we’ll see.
As for the car itself, the Institute for Justice’s 2010 “Policing for Profit” report calculated that law enforcement officials in the state have collected more than $80 million in shared proceeds from asset forfeiture funds. Oh, and the hidden compartment law exempts vehicles being operated by law enforcement officers, so if state troopers can come up with an excuse to use the ride they just grabbed, they may be able to keep it for themselves.