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Name: People v. Arias
Case #: A112810
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 07/25/2007
Subsequent History: 10/24/07 Rev. Granted: S155571

Health and Safety Code section 11366.8, subdivision (a), prohibits the use, possession, or control of a false compartment in a vehicle to conceal controlled substances. Applying the rules of statutory construction and considering the legislative history of the statute, the court determined that “false compartment” refers only to original factory equipment of a vehicle that has been modified. (Disagreeing with the holding in People v. Gonzalez (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 1405.)

In this case, the controlled substance was found in baggies stuffed into a space between the steering column and adjacent wiring located behind the part of the dashborad that would be above the seated driver’s left knee. The dashboard panel snapped out to allow removal of the baggies. The trial court instructed the jury with CALCRIM no. 2441 which failed to instruct that the vehicle must be modified to create the compartment, merely stating that the compartment may be a modification of original factory equipment. Because there was no evidence that the compartment in appellant’s vehicle was modified and appellant vigorously denied that he changed or modified the vehicle, the instruction was highly prejudicial. Aside from the prejudicial instruction, the conviction could not stand because there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction.