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False Compartments

Concealing Drugs in False Compartments - Health and Safety Code 11366.8 HS

California Health and Safety Code 11366.8 HS makes it a crime to conceal a controlled substance in a false compartment. The offense could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony (wobbler) and is punishable by up to three years in jail.

Simply put, this law makes it a crime for someone to possess or use a false compartment with the intent to hide or transport drugs inside of it, build a false compartment inside, or attach it to a vehicle intending to hide or transport drugs inside it.

Concealing Drugs in False Compartments - California Health and Safety Code 11366.8 HS
HS 11366.8 makes it a crime to conceal a controlled substance in a false compartment.

A "false compartment" is any box or enclosure intended or designed to conceal a controlled substance.

While many of California's drug laws deal with elements of possession or distribution of controlled substances, Health and Safety Code 11366.8 HS explicitly targets the "false compartments" used to conceal, smuggle, or transport those illegal drugs.

HS 11366.8 says, "(a) Every person who possesses, uses, or controls a false compartment with the intent to store, conceal, smuggle, or transport a controlled substance within the false compartment shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a term of imprisonment not to exceed one year or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code.

(b) Every person who designs, constructs, builds, alters, or fabricates a false compartment for, or installs or attaches a false compartment to, a vehicle with the intent to store, conceal, smuggle, or transport a controlled substance shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months or two or three years.

(c) The term vehicle means any of the following vehicles, regardless of whether they are private or commercial, including, but not limited to, cars, trucks, buses, aircraft, boats, ships, yachts, and vessels.

(d) The term false compartment means any box, container, space, or enclosure that is intended for use or designed for use to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent discovery of any controlled substance within or attached to a vehicle, including, but not limited to, any of the following:

(1) False, altered, or modified fuel tanks.

(2) Original factory equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or changed.

(3) Compartment, space, or box added to, fabricated, made, or created from, existing compartments, spaces, or boxes within a vehicle."

If you are convicted of possessing or using a false compartment, you could face up to a year in jail. If convicted of designing or building such a compartment, you could face up to three years in state prison.

What Does the Law Say?

Health and Safety Code 11366.8 criminalizes two primary actions related to false compartments that store or transport controlled substances. One offense is considered more severe than the other:

  • Possessing, using, or controlling a false compartment with the intent to store, conceal, smuggle, or transport a controlled substance. The lesser offense.
  • Designing, constructing, or installing a false compartment with the intent to store, conceal, smuggle, or transport controlled substances is a more serious offense.

What Constitutes a False Compartment?

HSC 11366.8 defines a "false compartment" as "any box, container, space, or enclosure intended for use or designed to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent discovery of any controlled substance within or attached to a vehicle..." Examples of false compartments may include:

  • Altered or modified fuel tanks.
  • Hidden compartments within the interior of a vehicle.
  • Secret compartments in spare tires or other parts of the vehicle.
  • Any other modification of original factory equipment or existing compartments designed to conceal drugs (and conceal the secret compartment's existence).

Essentially, any enclosure or space within a vehicle constructed to hide drugs from discovery is a false compartment.

What Must Be Proven for a Conviction?

To secure a conviction under HSC 11366.8, the prosecution must establish several critical elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, such as the following:

  • Existence of a False Compartment: A compartment must be designed or modified to conceal controlled substances. This includes altered fuel tanks, factory equipment modifications, or additional fabricated spaces within the vehicle.
  • Intent: You must have intended to use the compartment to store, conceal, smuggle, or transport controlled substances. Intent can often be inferred from circumstantial evidence, such as the presence of drugs or paraphernalia.
  • Operational Vehicle: The statute applies to many vehicles, including cars, trucks, buses, aircraft, boats, and other vessels.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: John operates a small auto repair shop in California. Knowing the lucrative nature of the drug trade, he starts offering a specialized service to specific clients: installing hidden compartments in their vehicles. One day, a client asks John to modify the fuel tank of a car to create a concealed space for transporting drugs. John completes the alteration, fully aware that the compartment will be used to smuggle controlled substances across state lines. John can be charged under HSC 11366.8.

EXAMPLE 2: Sarah is pulled over by the police for a routine traffic stop. During the stop, a police dog alerts officers to possible drugs in her vehicle. Upon further inspection, the officers discover a sophisticated false compartment built into the backseat, containing several packages of illegal narcotics. Sarah may be charged under HSC 11366.8.

What are Related Crimes?

Several California crimes are related to HS 1366.8 concealing drugs in a false compartment, including the following:

  • Health and Safety Code 11351 HS - Possession for sale of a controlled substance. This law makes it a crime to possess particular controlled substances to sell them. These include illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, and prescription drugs, like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Codeine.
  • Health and Safety Code 11379.6 HS - Manufacturing of drugs and narcotics. This law prohibits illegally manufacturing drugs, narcotics, or controlled substances. It also includes compounding, converting, producing, processing, preparing, or offering to engage in any of these acts concerning any controlled substance.
  • Health and Safety Code 11366 HS - Operating a drug house. A "drug house" is described as any place maintained for the purpose of unlawfully selling or giving away illegal controlled substances. The prosecutor must prove that you opened or maintained a spot and did so with the intent to sell, give away, or allow others to use a controlled substance or narcotic on a continuous or repeated basis at that place.

What are the Penalties and Consequences?

In broadest terms, violating HSC 1366.8 is considered a "wobbler" offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. More specifically, the offense will be charged based on the specific type of violation:

  • Possession, use, or control of the false compartment is charged as a misdemeanor. If convicted, the penalty is up to one year in county jail.
  • Designing, building, or installing the false compartment is charged as a felony. If convicted, the penalty is 16 months, two, or three years in state prison.

What are the Common Defenses?

If you're charged with a crime under HSC 11366.8, a skilled California criminal defense attorney will use a strategic approach to defend against the charges. Some common defenses include:

  • Lack of Intent: A crucial element of the crime is the intent to use the compartment for illegal purposes. If the defense can show that the compartment was not intended to store, conceal, smuggle, or transport controlled substances, it can be a strong argument for dismissal.
  • Invalid Search and Seizure: Evidence obtained through unlawful search and seizure may be inadmissible in court. If law enforcement violated constitutional protections during the investigation, the defense can move to suppress such evidence.
  • No Knowledge of the Compartment: Your attorney may argue that you were unaware of the false compartment's existence (for example, the vehicle was borrowed or rented without awareness of the hidden compartment).

For more information, contact our criminal defense law firm, Eisner Gorin LLP, which has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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