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Why Is PA Trying to Criminalize 'Secret Compartments'?

Opponents of the bill believe that it’ll lead to unreasonable and intrusive law enforcement searches.

AP Photo

The Pennsylvania House approved a bill Monday, by a vote of 114-83, outlawing the criminal use of “secret compartments” in vehicles, CBS Philly reports.

“Cocaine is being transported via the Pennsylvania Turnpike in secret compartments to be distributed in Philadelphia all over the city, and in New Jersey,” says the bill's sponsor Rep. Kate Harper (R-PA). “The district attorneys’ association has endorsed this bill as another tool that they need.”

Well, that’s good. Because now that the state is one step closer to outlawing “secret compartments,” the type of people who traffic cocaine, weapons, and humans will stop using them, right?

“The bill would make it a crime to have a ‘false or secret’ compartment in a vehicle with the intent to use the compartment criminally,” CBS Philly reports. “A false or secret compartment is defined as an enclosure integrated into a vehicle that represents a modification of the vehicle as originally built by the manufacturer.”

Unsurprisingly, the bill has drawn criticism from a few members of the Pennsylvania House. Opponents of Rep. Harper's initiative believe that it’ll lead to unreasonable and intrusive law enforcement searches.

“Rep. Brandon Neuman led the opposition. The Washington County Democrat suggested the bill could open the door to police searches of after-market saddle bags on a motorcycle,” WFMZ-TV reports.

"I personally believe that our existing laws adequately go after drug dealers," Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-PA) said, adding that citizens who put cash or even legally-owned firearms in such compartments would be forced to prove their innocence.

Rep. Harper believes these objections are unfounded and says that the law does not “criminalize secret compartments, only those that are used with criminal intent,” The Republic reports.

"The fears of those who oppose the bill are not founded in reality," she said.

The bill will now go to the Pennsylvania Senate.

Front page photo source: Criminal Justice Collaboratory. This story has been updated.

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