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Name: People v. Arias
Case #: S155571
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 11/06/2008

Health and Safety Code section 11366.8 excludes from its definition of “false compartment” a vehicle’s original factory equipment that has not been modified, altered, or changed in any way. Police saw a baggie sticking out of a “gap” between the dashboard and steering column of a car. The officer pulled off a panel from the dashboard and removed baggies containing drugs. The space behind the panel did not appear to be a storage compartment. Rather, it contained wiring and the panel easily clipped in and out of place, probably to allow access to the wiring. Appellant had not done anything to change or modify the car to place drugs inside. He argued on appeal that he could not be convicted of possessing a false compartment in violation of section 11366.8, and that the trial court had erred in telling the jury that modification of the physical configuration of the vehicle was not necessary. The Supreme Court agreed on both counts. To construe the statute otherwise, would essentially reduce the entire offense to one of concealment. The legislative history shows that is not what the Legislature intended. Rather, it was concerned with punishing individuals who use or manufacture compartments made by someone besides the original manufacturer. (Disapproving People v. Gonzalez (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 1405.)