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Since SB 305, the "hidden compartment" bill, passed the Ohio Senate on May 3, OFCC has turned its attention to members of the State House of Representatives. The following letter was recently sent to all 99 House members:

Dear Representative,

Since before SB305 was introduced in the Ohio Senate, Ohioans For Concealed Carry (OFCC) has been concerned with this legislation's treatment of the private property rights of law abiding citizens. Our objection is not just about the transportation of firearms -- it is about the safe, lawful storage of anything a person might wish to secure from today's smash and grab thieves.

Let us be clear: We don't advocate protecting criminals or drug trafficking mules. Nevertheless, we oppose the idea that the next step in the war on drugs must criminalize the possession of empty containers on the basis of what a police officer believes the future intent of that container might be. The recent suggestion that a citizen accused under this legislation can simply "prove their intent in court" turns Fourth Amendment jurisprudence on its head.

SB305 literally criminalizes the possession of an empty container, and has been written so broadly that a law-abiding person can be arrested and charged on ridiculously vague circumstantial evidence supported only by the personal intuition of a police officer.

Understand the irony: When this bill was first introduced, a driver in Toledo was pulled over and drugs were found in a hidden compartment behind the license plate. On the very day this bill was released to the full Senate by the Judiciary Committee, a similar arrest was made near Cincinnati. The news media highlighted these incidents as proof that this law is needed, despite the fact that all these people will be charged with serious crimes. The woman arrested in the second incident is likely to face up to 21 years in prison -- more than some murderers. If anything, these coincidentally well-timed arrests prove the new law isn't needed to place serious charges against drug smugglers.

Moreover, we have pointed out that hidden compartments are already illegal in other sections of the Ohio Revised Code. In those other sections, the violation is a misdemeanor, while SB305 makes it a felony. This appears to advance the practice of "overcharging," which tends to deny the accused their day in court. After all, if a defendant can be charged with multiple crimes, including a life-altering felony, the odds of a prosecutor having to deal with a jury drop dramatically.

The purpose of this legislation ostensibly is to empower law enforcement to arrest -- and level felony charges against -- anyone possessing an EMPTY container that may have been used in the past, or may be used in the future, for criminal purposes. The last time we checked, supernatural, see-the-future skills aren't included in the Ohio Police Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) curriculum.

It's one thing to suggest that a police officer looking at a large quantity of illegal drugs can conclude that the intent is to distribute those drugs to other parties, and charge that person with intent to distribute. It's a far stretch to pretend that a police officer is capable of determining a citizen's future intent for an empty container. Yet this bill would allow that officer to levy felony charges based on his or her intuition and imagination.

With SB305, Ohio is on the road to repeat the same costly mistake made recently in Illinois. In 2008, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a state law almost identical to SB305. The court annulled the law because citizens could be convicted regardless of how a "hidden compartment" was actually used. (People v. Carpenter, 888 N.E.2d 105, Sup. Ct., Ill., 2008).

We all know that well-intended legislation can have destructive, unforeseen consequences. OFCC firmly believes that SB305 is just such a bill. We ask you to help us find a way to permanently table it.

Sincerely,

Jeff Garvas

President, Ohioans For Concealed Carry

Category: Ohio Legislation

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