Fact that man possessed no drugs did not stop police from arresting him

Adan Salazar
November 21, 2013

A search didn’t find any drugs on 30-year-old Ohio driver Norman Gurley, but that didn’t stop police from making him the first person in the state to be arrested for violating a relatively new law that purportedly seeks to combat drug trafficking by prohibiting the use of vehicles containing hidden compartments.

After they pulled Gurley over for speeding, state troopers apparently “noticed several wires running to the back of the car,” according to WKYC.

“During the search, they noticed some components inside the vehicle that did not appear to be factory,” Lt. Michael Combs of the Ohio State Highway Patrol told WKYC. “We figured it out and followed the wiring and we were able to get it open.”

Combs says Gurley was “apparently caught.. between runs, so to speak,” assuming his vehicle was modified in order to transport illegal drugs.

But the fact that he wasn’t in possession of drugs doesn’t matter, says WKYC, “because in Ohio, just driving a ‘trap’ car is now a felony.”

Indeed, an amendment to state law last year made driving a vehicle with hidden compartments “with the intent to facilitate the unlawful concealment or transportation of a controlled substance…” a felony of the fourth degree, a violation punishable by up to 18 months in prison.

But according to the very law by which Gurley was arrested, it’s unclear if troopers were even in the right.

Sec. 2923.241 (I) of the law states it “does not apply to a box, safe, container, or other item added to a vehicle for the purpose of securing valuables, electronics, or firearms,” as long as said container “does not contain a controlled substance or visible residue of a controlled substance.”

Gurley's "trap car" was supposedly similar to this vehicle. /
Gurley’s “trap car” was supposedly similar to this vehicle. / screen capture via WKYC

“Without the hidden compartment law, we would not have had any charges on the suspect,” remarked Lt. Combs.

Of course the key thing the state will have to prove is Gurley had the “intent” to hide drugs, but the law goes beyond this by punishing previous offenders simply for operating modified vehicles, even though the law itself states that car dealers are not obligated to disclose hidden compartments to buyers.

The ACLU of Ohio also took issue with the law last year stating it was “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,” wondered Reason writer Scott Shackford. “Maybe we’ll see.”

Do you believe the law will get more drug dealers off the street? or does it merely provide another excuse for police to pull you over by claiming they “suspect” you’re driving a “trap” car? Sound off below.

(H/T: Reason)

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