Designed as an alleged anti-drug law, the bill would punish those who add a hidden compartment after the vehicle is purchased with a two-year mandatory prison sentence, and five years for subsequent offenses.
Even worse, the law would empower police to seize the vehicle under civil forfeiture law. Lawmakers in support of the House bill claim it’s necessary to prosecute the war on drugs. State police officials have endorsed the bill as needed to discourage drug trafficking.
The bill does not require police to actually find drugs or contraband items in the hidden compartment. It simply functions on the premise that the owner has an “intent” to use the compartment for illegal purposes, such as transporting drugs.
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 “hidden compartment” as any space added to a vehicle after purchase that provides concealed storage. It’s sponsored by Democrat Stefan Hay of Fitchburg.
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.”
No drugs were found, but he was charged anyway with a violation of the hidden compartment law. He’s still facing a jury trial in December of this year.
Critics of the law’s basic concept contend it violates due process and infringes on property rights.
Part of the story behind the story is that Massachusetts has one of the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the nation, according to the property-rights-defending experts at the Institute for Justice. Police in the Commonwealth rake in millions of dollars each year from civil forfeitures.
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.”
So, there is an obvious conflict of interest in that police get to keep 100% of the value of what is seized, which provides an enormous financial incentive to pull over anyone with the slightest suspicion of potential wrongdoing.
The proposed legislation, H 1266, presents a real challenge for those defending attacks on civil liberties and the Fourth Amendment.
The bill remains in the House Committee on Bills for a third reading. With only five sponsors out of 160 members in the House of Representatives, it remains to be seen if the bill will move forward.
Nonetheless, the “Big Brother” aspects of the bill and its assault on basic constitutional principles should disturb not just Massachusetts residents, but lovers of liberty everywhere.
Imagine picking up a legitimate prescription for a painkiller and then storing it in the hidden compartment to safeguard it while you run other errands or shop. Under this proposed law, you could wind up in prison and lose your vehicle if stopped by police.