BOSTON — Creating hidden compartments in cars, boats or airplanes to conceal guns, drugs or drug money would be a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of two years, under a bill that has received initial approval in the Massachusetts House.
The bill filed by Rep. Stephan Hay, a Fitchburg Democrat, is an attempt to crack down on a logistical tactic used to traffic drugs.
While progressive lawmakers hope to build support for repealing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes this session, state officials are also trying to crack down on the trafficking of fentanyl and other deadly opioids.
State Police spokesman Dave Procopio said the compartments are known as "hides" and for many years they have been "extremely common among drug traffickers."
A 2010 F.B.I. bulletin reported that hides can be built into the space behind the center of a steering wheel or the rear bumper and they can be mechanized and opened by a "complex series of switches, such as turn signals, power windows, or the defroster."
Procopio said hides can be "pretty sophisticated" and troopers are trained to detect them.
A Wired magazine article about the legal plight of a stereo installer in California who gained notoriety building secret compartments reported that the compartments are referred to as "traps" and some are voice-activated.
"We support the effort to crack down on a very common and longstanding tactic used by traffickers to conceal contraband in transit," Procopio wrote in an email.
The bill would make it a crime to use or possess a vehicle with a hidden compartment used for drugs, drug money firearms or other weapons. The bill would also make it a crime to design or fabricate a hidden compartment for those illicit purposes.
Violators could be sentenced to two to five years in state prison or a house of correction, under the legislation. Authorities would also have the power to seize the vehicle and the contents of the hidden compartment, under the bill, which was advanced on a voice vote during a June 29 House session.
Another provision of the bill says that proof that a vehicle contains a hidden compartment would be "prima facie" evidence that it was "intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances."