Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 45 Cal. 4th 169, 195 P.3d 103, 85 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1

People v. Arias

Filed 11/6/08

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

THE PEOPLE,
Plaintiff and Respondent,
S155571
v.
Ct.App.
1/2
A112810
JOHN R. ARIAS,
Contra Costa County
Defendant and Appellant.
Super. Ct. No. 5-051079-2

Health and Safety Code section 11366.8, subdivision (a),1 prohibits the
possession of a “false compartment” “with the intent to . . . conceal . . . or
transport a controlled substance within the false compartment.” Subdivision (d)
defines “false compartment” as “any box, container, space, or enclosure that is
intended for use or designed for use to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent
discovery of any controlled substance within or attached to a vehicle, including,
but not limited to, any of the following: [¶] (1) False, altered, or modified fuel
tanks. [¶] (2) Original factory equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or
changed. [¶] (3) Compartment, space, or box that is added to, or fabricated,
made, or created from, existing compartments, spaces, or boxes within a vehicle.”
We granted the People’s petition for review in order to determine whether a
violation of section 11366.8(d) requires that a defendant add to, or modify, a

1
Statutory references are to the Health and Safety Code unless otherwise
noted. We refer to the subdivisions of section 11366.8 in abbreviated form, e.g.,
section 11366.8(a), or simply by subdivision when the statutory reference is
obvious.
1


vehicle’s original factory equipment, as opposed to using an existing premarket
enclosure, such as a glove compartment, or hiding controlled substances behind a
factory-installed panel in the vehicle. For the reasons discussed below, we
interpret section 11366.8 to exclude from its definition of “false compartment” a
vehicle’s original factory equipment that has not been modified, altered, or
changed in any way. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On May 25, 2005, Martinez Police Officer Nick Voyvodich stopped a 1996
Lexus because it lacked a front license plate. He searched the car after he had its
driver and sole occupant, John R. Arias, exit the vehicle. Voyvodich first
examined the “headliner,” a fabric-covered area between the sunroof and the car’s
frame. Unfastening Velcro strips attached to the fabric, he pulled down the
headliner and looked into its interior. Finding nothing, he next looked at the area
under the driver’s seat, which also was empty.
When he looked up, Voyvodich noticed a plastic ball containing a white
crystalline substance sticking out of a “gap” between the dashboard and steering
column. Voyvodich pulled off the “loose” dashboard panel located “just above [a
seated driver’s] left knee” and removed the plastic, which contained three baggies
containing a white substance. The space under the steering column and behind the
dashboard contained wiring circuitry, and Voyvodich testified that it “didn’t
appear to be a storage area” or to have “a hand release or anything like a button on
the glove compartment.” He noted that the panel easily “clipped” in and out,
apparently to allow access to the wiring for “people working on the car.”
Voyvodich testified it “would be hard to pull out” the baggies through the gap,
that he would have needed “to manipulate [them] a lot.” When Voyvodich
searched defendant, he found cash in three bundles stacked in a “crisscross
2
fashion” that contained $300, $320, and $380, respectively, plus a separate folded
bundle of cash in the amount of $425.
The baggies contained methamphetamine; they weighed 27.72, 23.01, and
3.31 grams respectively. A narcotics expert testified that, in his opinion,
defendant possessed the drugs for sale. The expert based his opinion on the
amount found in each baggie, the cash bundles that suggested separate sales in
quarter-ounce amounts, and the fact that defendant did not appear to be under the
influence of a drug or in possession of drug paraphernalia.
Defendant’s mother owned the Lexus defendant had been driving. When
asked “Did you personally do anything to the inside of the Lexus to change or
modify any aspect of . . . it so that you could put drugs in there?” defendant
testified, “No, my mother would kill me if I did anything like that.”
As relevant to the single issue before this court, a jury found defendant
guilty of “a violation of [section] 11366.8(a) of the California Health and Safety
Code (possessing false compartment) as set forth in count three of the indictment.”
The jury also found defendant guilty of transporting methamphetamine (§ 11379,
subd. (a)), and possessing methamphetamine for sale (§ 11378). Defendant was
sentenced to state prison for seven years, including a four-year concurrent term for
possessing a false compartment.
The Court of Appeal reversed defendant’s conviction for possessing a false
compartment. It concluded the trial court gave an erroneous instruction defining
“false compartment” and that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to
prove that defendant used or possessed a false compartment within the meaning of
section 11366.8. We granted the People’s petition for review.
II. DISCUSSION
Section 11366.8 provides as follows: “(a) Every person who possesses,
uses, or controls a false compartment with the intent to store, conceal, smuggle, or
3
transport a controlled substance within the false compartment shall be punished by
imprisonment in a county jail for a term of imprisonment not to exceed one year or
in the state prison. [¶] (b) Every person who designs, constructs, builds, alters, or
fabricates a false compartment for, or installs or attaches a false compartment to, a
vehicle with the intent to store, conceal, smuggle, or transport a controlled
substance shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months or
two or three years. [¶] (c) The term ‘vehicle’ means any of the following vehicles
without regard to whether the vehicles are private or commercial, including, but
not limited to, cars, trucks, buses, aircraft, boats, ships, yachts, and vessels. [¶]
(d) The term ‘false compartment’ means any box, container, space, or enclosure
that is intended for use or designed for use to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent
discovery of any controlled substance within or attached to a vehicle, including,
but not limited to, any of the following: [¶] (1) False, altered, or modified fuel
tanks. [¶] (2) Original factory equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or
changed. [¶] (3) Compartment, space, or box that is added to, or fabricated,
made, or created from, existing compartments, spaces, or boxes within a vehicle.”
With respect to this section, the trial court instructed the jury that “[e]very
person who possesses, uses, or controls a false compartment with the intent to
store, conceal, smuggle or transport a controlled substance within the false
compartment is guilty of a violation of Health and Safety Section 11366.8(a). In
order to prove this crime, each of the following elements must be proved: One, a
person possessed, used, or controlled a false compartment; two, that person had
the specific intent to conceal, smuggle or transport a controlled substance within
the false compartment; a false compartment is a space in a vehicle that is neither
designed nor intended for storage or transportation of personal items, but is,
nevertheless, used to conceal controlled substances even without any modification
of the physical configuration of the space.” (Italics added.)
4
The portion of the trial court’s instruction italicized above was based on the
interpretation of the statutory definition of false compartment set forth in People v.
Gonzalez (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 1405 (Gonzalez), a case in which brothers were
jointly tried and convicted of several drug offenses. One brother, who was
separately convicted of possession of a false compartment, contended the plain
language of section 11366.8 required a change to the “ ‘equipment’ ” of the 1990
Ford Thunderbird he was entering when arrested, “ ‘not simply placing something
in a pre-existing space.’ He argue[d] that without evidence ‘the original factory
equipment of the [automobile] had been “modified, altered, or changed,” ’ his
conviction of a violation of section 11366.8 cannot stand.” (Gonzalez, supra,
116 Cal.App.4th at p. 1413.) His argument rested on the fact that the examples of
“false compartment” listed in subdivision (d) all refer to a modification, alteration,
or change of a vehicle’s original factory equipment. The Gonzalez court,
however, found “nothing in the language of section 11366.8 that requires a
modification, fabrication or alteration of the ‘original factory equipment’ of the
vehicle,” and concluded that a “false compartment” is “a space in a vehicle that is
neither designed nor intended for storage or transportation of personal items, but is
nevertheless used to conceal controlled substances, even without any modification
of the physical configuration of the space.” (Id. at p. 1414.) In reaching this
conclusion, the court relied on the fact that “the statute specifies that a false
compartment includes but is not limited to [the] enumerated examples,” and on the
general rule of statutory construction that “[u]se of the language ‘including, but
not limited to’ in the statutory definition is a phrase of enlargement rather than
limitation.” (Ibid.)
In the present case, the Court of Appeal concluded that “[t]he history of
section 11366.8 makes clear that the definition of ‘false compartment’ adopted in
Gonzales, supra, 116 Cal.App.4th 1405, 1414, and the basis of the jury instruction
5
challenged in this case, is incompatible with the purpose of the statute.” For the
reasons stated below, we agree with the Court of Appeal that “the Gonzalez court
misread section 11366.8.”
We reach this conclusion by construing section 11366.8 under established
principles. “Under settled canons of statutory construction, in construing a statute
we ascertain the Legislature’s intent in order to effectuate the law’s purpose.
(Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1379,
1386-1387.) We must look to the statute’s words and give them their usual and
ordinary meaning. (DaFonte v. Up-Right, Inc. (1992) 2 Cal.4th 593, 601.) The
statute’s plain meaning controls the court’s interpretation unless its words are
ambiguous.” (Green v. State of California (2007) 42 Cal.4th 254, 260; see also
Gattuso v. Harte-Hanks Shoppers, Inc. (2007) 42 Cal.4th 554, 567.) If the words
in the statute do not, by themselves, provide a reliable indicator of legislative
intent, “[s]tatutory ambiguities often may be resolved by examining the context in
which the language appears and adopting the construction which best serves to
harmonize the statute internally and with related statutes. (Woods v. Young (1991)
53 Cal.3d 315, 323.)” (Hsu v. Abbara (1995) 9 Cal.4th 863, 871.) “ ‘Literal
construction should not prevail if it is contrary to the legislative intent apparent in
the statute . . . ; and if a statute is amenable to two alternative interpretations, the
one that leads to the more reasonable result will be followed [citation].’
[Citations.]” (People v. Shabazz (2006) 38 Cal.4th 55, 67-68.) If the statute is
ambiguous, we may consider a variety of extrinsic aids, including legislative
history, the statute’s purpose, and public policy. (Coalition of Concerned
Communities, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2004) 34 Cal.4th 733, 737.) If a statute
defining a crime or punishment is susceptible of two reasonable interpretations, we
ordinarily adopt the interpretation that is more favorable to the defendant. (People
v. Avery (2002) 27 Cal.4th 49, 57.)
6
With these principles in mind, we turn to the statutory definition of “false
compartment,” which is “any box, container, space, or enclosure that is intended
for use or designed for use to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent discovery of any
controlled substance within or attached to a vehicle, including, but not limited to,
any of the following: [¶] (1) False, altered, or modified fuel tanks. [¶]
(2) Original factory equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or changed.
[¶] (3) Compartment, space, or box that is added to, or fabricated, made, or created
from, existing compartments, spaces, or boxes within a vehicle.” (§ 11366.8,
subd. (d), italics added.)
We agree with the Court of Appeal that it would be unreasonable to
interpret the phrase “intended for use or designed for use to conceal, hide, or
otherwise prevent discovery of any controlled substance within or attached to a
vehicle” in the above definition of false compartment to mean “intended [by the
vehicle’s manufacturer] for use or designed [by the vehicle’s manufacturer] for
use to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent discovery of any controlled substance
within or attached to a vehicle.” As the Court of Appeal aptly noted, there is no
“reason to think that manufacturers of new vehicles include in their products
spaces or enclosures ‘intended . . . or designed’ to be used to conceal or transport
controlled substances.” We are equally convinced that the word “intended” in the
definition of false compartment does not refer to the specific intent of the
defendant that is required for a conviction under either subdivision (a) or (b) of
section 11366.8 because that would render the phrase “with the intent to store,
conceal, smuggle, or transport a controlled substance” in both subdivisions
meaningless or redundant.
After examining the context in which the definition of false compartment
appears and adopting the construction that best harmonizes the statute internally
(Hsu v. Abbara, supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 871), we conclude that, although awkwardly
7
phrased, the language in subdivision (d) of section 11366.8, italicized above, is
simply an alternative reference back to subdivisions (a) and (b) of the statute. For
example, subdivision (d) explains that, when a defendant is charged with
possessing, using, or controlling a false compartment under subdivision (a), a false
compartment is “any box, container, space, or enclosure that is intended for
use . . . to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent discovery of any controlled
substance within or attached to a vehicle, including, but not limited to, any of the
following: [¶] (1) False, altered, or modified fuel tanks. [¶] (2) Original factory
equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or changed. [¶]
(3) Compartment, space, or box that is added to, or fabricated, made, or created
from, existing compartments, spaces, or boxes within a vehicle.” (§ 11366.8,
subd. (d), italics added.) Alternatively, when a defendant is charged with
designing, constructing, or installing a false compartment under subdivision (b),
the statutory definition of false compartment would be prefaced by the phrase
“designed for use” instead of the phrase “intended for use.” Having adopted the
construction of the language in subdivision (d) of section 11366.8, italicized
above, that best serves to harmonize the statute internally, we discuss below the
remainder of the subdivision.
Initially, we find it significant that, in the phrase “false compartment,” the
word “false” describes the compartment, not the individuals who use it. In that
context, the word “false” has been defined by one authority as “[i]ntentionally
deceptive,” with two examples provided: “a suitcase with a false bottom; false
promises.” (The American Heritage Dict. of the English Language (4th ed. 2000)
p. 638; see also 5 Oxford English Dict. (2d ed. 1989) p. 698, col. 2 [the word
“false,” when describing “appearances” or “things,” means “deceptive”].) While a
separate zipped compartment at the bottom of a suitcase could be used to hide
illegal drugs as well as to store shoes, no reasonable person would conclude that
8
suitcase manufacturers intended that such a separate space be used to prevent the
discovery of controlled substances. The manufactured shoe compartment at the
bottom of a suitcase would not fit the definition of “false bottom,” i.e., a bottom
intentionally constructed to deceive observers by concealing the “true” bottom of
the suitcase. On the other hand, a suitcase with a false bottom that was
intentionally designed to be deceptive constitutes a “false compartment” whether
or not anything is concealed within it when it is discovered. The critical issue is
whether the compartment itself was constructed in a manner to intentionally
deceive an untrained observer by concealing its existence.
We agree with the Court of Appeal that “[i]f the ‘false compartment’ to
which section 11366.8 refers need not be shown to have been designed [or]
fabricated [or installed] by the defendant or someone else for the unlawful purpose
of concealing a controlled substance [and any other additional purpose, such as,
for example, concealing drug proceeds or an illegal weapon], the statute would
provide the basis for a separate felony offense in the majority of the many cases in
which drugs not in plain view are found in a vehicle.” We agree with defendant
that such a construction “essentially reads the ‘false’ out of ‘false compartment,’
and that, “while the statute is focused on the ‘false compartment,’ respondent’s
construction would reduce the entire offense to the act of concealment. It is clear
that this is not what the Legislature intended.” As the Court of Appeal noted,
while “the three examples of the statute’s application provided in subdivision (d)
of section 11366.8 cannot limit its meaning, because the phrase ‘including, but not
limited to’ in that provision is a phrase of enlargement[,] a definition of ‘false
compartment’ that required no modification of original factory equipment would
be so consequential that is difficult to think the Legislature would not have
provided such an example if that was indeed its intention.” In fact, we are
convinced that, if the Legislature had intended to be included within its definition
9
of “false compartment” original factory equipment of a vehicle that was not
modified, altered, or changed, it would not have included those three qualifying
modifiers to “original factory equipment” in its second example of a false
compartment.
We rely on the following rules of statutory construction in reaching our
conclusion that, had the Legislature intended for original factory equipment of a
vehicle to be included within the term “false compartment” whether or not the
equipment had been modified, altered, or changed, it would not have included, as
a second example of a false compartment, “Original factory equipment of a
vehicle that is modified, altered, or changed.” (§ 11366.8, subd. (d)(2), italics
added (second example).)
First, in reviewing the text of a statute, we must follow the fundamental
rule of statutory construction that requires every part of a statute be presumed to
have some effect and not be treated as meaningless unless absolutely necessary.
“Significance should be given, if possible, to every word of an act. [Citation.]
Conversely, a construction that renders a word surplusage should be avoided.
[Citations.]” (Delaney v. Superior Court (1990) 50 Cal.3d 785, 798-799; see also
Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com., supra, 43 Cal.3d at pp.
1386-1387.) Had the Legislature intended any and all original factory equipment
in a vehicle to constitute a false compartment under section 11366.8 whenever a
person hid a controlled substance inside or behind that equipment, its second
example, “Original factory equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or
changed” (§ 11366.8, subd. (d)(2)), would have no effect and would be rendered
meaningless. In order for the Legislature’s second example of a false
compartment to have some effect, we must interpret section 11366.8 as excluding
from its definition of a false compartment the vehicle’s original factory equipment
that has not been modified, altered, or changed.
10
A second principle of statutory construction explains that, when a particular
class of things modifies general words, those general words are construed as
applying only to things of the same nature or class as those enumerated. (Scally v.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (1972) 23 Cal.App.3d 806, 819.) This canon of
statutory construction, which in the law is known as ejusdem generis, “ ‘applies
whether the specific words follow general words in a statute or vice versa. In
either event, the general term or category is “restricted to those things that are
similar to those which are enumerated specifically.” ’ [Citation.]” (International
Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 21, AFL-CIO v.
Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 319, 342.) Here, although the definition of false
compartment is not limited to the three examples provided in section 11366.8(d),
the meaning of the general words “[o]riginal factory equipment of a vehicle”
within the second example has been restricted by the Legislature to refer to factory
equipment that is “modified, altered, or changed.” Ejusdem generis, which
literally means “ ‘ “of the same kind” ’ ” (Major v. Silna (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th
1485, 1494), does not allow us to ignore the restrictions the Legislature set or to
broaden the meaning of false compartment with regard to original factory
equipment beyond the restrictions set forth in the Legislature’s second example.
The rule is “based on the obvious reason that if the Legislature had intended the
general words to be used in their unrestricted sense, it would not have mentioned
the particular things or classes of things which would in that event become mere
surplusage.” (Scally, supra, at p. 819; see also Kraus v. Trinity Management
Services, Inc. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 116, 141.)
“In construing criminal statutes the ejusdem generis rule of construction is
applied with stringency. [Citations.]” (People v. Thomas (1945) 25 Cal.2d 880,
899.) For example, in Thomas, this court applied the rule to section 189 of the
Penal Code, which, at that time, “define[d] the degrees of murder as follows: ‘All
11
murder which is perpetrated by means of poison, or lying in wait, torture, or by
any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, [or] which is
committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate arson, rape, robbery,
burglary, or mayhem, is murder of the first degree; and all other kinds of murders
are of the second degree.’ ” (25 Cal.2d at p. 899.) After observing that the rule “is
applied with stringency” in construing criminal statutes, we explained that “the
more general words ‘or any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated
killing,’ following the specifically enumerated instances of killing which are
expressly declared to constitute murder of the first degree, must be construed in
the light of such specifically listed types and be held to include only killings of the
same general kind or character as those specifically mentioned. By conjoining the
words ‘willful, deliberate, and premeditated’ in its definition and limitation of the
character of killings falling within murder of the first degree the Legislature
apparently emphasized its intention to require as an element of such crime
substantially more reflection than may be involved in the mere formation of a
specific intent to kill.” (Id. at pp. 899-900.) Here, similarly, we conclude the
Legislature expressed its intention to define a false compartment as requiring
something other than original factory-installed equipment by conjoining the words
“modified, altered, or changed” in its limitation of the character of original factory
equipment in subdivision (d)(2) of section 11366.8. While the proviso “including,
but not limited” “connotes an illustrative listing, one purposefully capable of
enlargement” (In re Forfeiture of $5,264 (Mich. 1989) 439 N.W.2d 246, 252), that
proviso here applies to the general overall list of examples of “false compartment”
in section 11366.8, but it cannot apply within the second example (subd. (d)(2)) to
enlarge the category to include original factory equipment because the proviso
would render nugatory the qualifiers that the Legislature purposefully included in
that example.
12
The same principle of statutory construction applies to the restrictions
involved in all three examples of a false compartment the Legislature has
provided. Each example of a “false compartment” set forth in section 11366.8(d)
involves using or constructing something more than the existing compartments or
original factory equipment in a vehicle, either using “false” equipment in addition
to original factory equipment (e.g., a false fuel tank)2 or making some change to
the existing original factory equipment or existing compartments in the vehicle
(e.g., a modified fuel tank). Together, these specific examples restrict the meaning
of a false compartment to boxes, containers, space, or enclosures that are not
simply factory-created compartments or original factory equipment.
As noted above, the Gonzalez court relied on the fact that “the statute
specifies that a false compartment includes but it is not limited to [the] enumerated
examples,” and on the general rule of statutory construction that “[u]se of the
language ‘including, but not limited to’ in the statutory definition is a phrase of
enlargement rather than limitation,” to conclude that a false compartment could
include a space used to conceal controlled substances in a vehicle even “without
any modification of the physical configuration of the space.” (Gonzalez, supra,
116 Cal.App.4th at p. 1414.) Although the Gonzalez court correctly reasoned that
the examples set forth in subdivision (d)’s definition of false compartment are not
an exclusive list of all possible false compartments under section 11366.8, it failed

2 The word “false” when modifying “fuel tank” (§ 11366.8, subd. (d)(1)) cannot
mean intentionally deceptive because, if it did, it would be unnecessary surplusage
repeating the definition of “false” in “false compartment.” Instead, “false” here
clearly means “not genuine” or “not real” as in false documents, false teeth, or
false eyelashes. (See, e.g., The American Heritage Dict. of the English Language,
supra, p. 638; see also 5 Oxford English Dict., supra, p. 698, col. 2 [“[c]ounterfeit,
simulated, sham”].) In context, a false fuel tank within the meaning of subdivision
(d)(1) is an extra, nonusable fuel tank that is added to the original factory
equipment and thereby changes it.
13


to apply other applicable canons of statutory construction to the examples the
Legislature did provide. Having analyzed the statute’s words in those three
examples of a false compartment under established canons of statutory
construction, we are convinced that the Legislature intended to exclude original
unaltered, unmodified, and unchanged factory equipment of a vehicle from its
definition of “false compartment” in section 11366.8. To the extent People v.
Gonzalez, supra, 116 Cal.App.4th 1405, holds to the contrary, we disapprove it.
Alternatively, were we to conclude that inclusion of the qualifiers in the
second example, in conjunction with the general “including but not limited to”
language, created an ambiguity regarding whether original factory equipment was
excluded from the definition of false compartment in section 11366.8, we would
reach the same result. Here, where the statute defining a crime is susceptible of
two reasonable interpretations, we would adopt the interpretation that is more
favorable to the defendant. (People v. Avery, supra, 27 Cal.4th at p. 57.) When a
statute is ambiguous, we may consider its legislative history and the statute’s
purpose. (Coalition of Concerned Communities, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles,
supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 737.) The Senate Judiciary Committee’s analysis of
Assembly Bill No. 1760 observed that according to the law enforcement agency
sponsors of the measure, during the first three months of 1993, “approximately
100 vehicles were interdicted at the California-Mexico border utilizing a variety of
fabricated or altered storage compartments or parts in vehicles. The sponsors
contend that the proliferation of false compartments in the drug trade is due to an
increase in the number of specialized auto shops which manufacture and install
such compartments. . . . Persons who manufacture or use secret compartments can
only be prosecuted for an underlying drug offense and not for the use of the
compartment itself.” (Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Analysis of Assem. Bill No. 1760
(1993-1994 Reg. Sess.), as introduced, June 29, 1993, p. 2, italics added.) The
14
Senate Judiciary Committee’s analysis included the bill sponsors’ assertion that
“under current law, an auto shop which builds and installs false compartments for
the transportation of controlled substances may openly admit their purpose to law
enforcement officers and feel secure in the fact that they have violated no law and
can not be prosecuted unless they actually possess an illegal controlled substance”
and the sponsors’ contention that the bill “would provide a necessary tool for law
enforcement to combat increasing use of false compartments in the drug trade.”
(Ibid., italics added.) This legislative history reveals the legislative intent to
punish the individual who manufactures or uses false compartments that are
fabricated by someone other than the manufacturer of the original vehicle
equipment.
Based on our statutory construction analysis of section 11366.8(d), we
conclude that the trial court’s instruction that a space or enclosure in a vehicle can
constitute a “false compartment” within the meaning of subdivision (a) of section
11366.8, “even without any modification of the physical configuration of the
space,” misinformed the jury and constituted error. Again, to the extent People v.
Gonzalez, supra, 116 Cal.App.4th 1405, holds to the contrary, we disapprove it.
The Attorney General’s argument that such an interpretation eliminates the
“scienter” requirement for crimes proscribed in the section ignores the fact that a
defendant cannot be found guilty of possession, use, or control of a false
compartment unless the prosecution can establish that he or she possessed, used,
or controlled the false compartment with the specific intent to “store, conceal,
smuggle, or transport a controlled substance.” (§ 11366.8, subd. (a).) The
remaining question is whether the error was prejudicial in this case.
At trial, Officer Voyvodich testified he first saw the plastic ball containing
the baggies of methamphetamine because it was sticking out of a “gap” between
the dashboard and steering column of the 1996 Lexus defendant was driving.
15
Voyvodich said the drugs were stuffed between the steering column and adjacent
wiring behind part of the dashboard and that he easily removed that “loose”
dashboard panel because it clipped in and out to facilitate access to the electrical
circuitry in that area. The prosecutor never asked the officer whether he tried to
determine whether this space, or any other part of the Lexus, was standard in that
model or whether it had been modified, altered, or changed in any way in order to
prevent the discovery of controlled substances. Voyvodich addressed the issue
only when asked on cross-examination whether he had spoken with a Lexus dealer
or mechanic to ascertain whether the “headliner” he examined was standard in that
model. Voyvodich answered “no”; he also conceded that he did not personally
know whether the headliner “was a standard feature of this particular model.”
Nothing in his testimony suggests that Voyvodich made any such inquiry with
respect to the space in which the drugs were found. Apart from defendant’s
uncontradicted testimony that he did not make any change to, or modification of,
his mother’s Lexus, the officer’s testimony constitutes the only evidence that
touched on whether the original factory equipment in the Lexus had been
modified, altered, or changed.
The prosecutor told the jury in her opening statement that she was confident
it would find the defendant guilty of transporting methamphetamine “in a secret
compartment inside the car. A compartment that is not used primarily for storing
items, such as the glove compartment.” In her closing argument, the prosecutor
told the jury the place where the drugs were found was a “hidden compartment,”
although anyone would “be able to see that methamphetamine” in the “big gap” as
they were “getting into that driver’s seat.” She argued the space in which the
drugs were found is not a place “where you are going to put your wallet. It’s not
where you are going to put your registration. This is solely for the purpose of
harboring these drugs . . . .” Significantly, the prosecutor never suggested to the
16
jury that any of the original factory equipment of the Lexus had been modified,
changed, or altered in order to create a space that was intended to prevent the
discovery of controlled substances.
Here, where no evidence was presented suggesting there had been an after-
market modification of, or alteration to, the original factory equipment of the
vehicle in which illegal drugs were found, we conclude the trial court’s instruction
that a false compartment is a space in a vehicle used to conceal controlled
substances “even without any modification of the physical configuration of the
space” was prejudicial. In addition, we agree with the Court of Appeal that,
“entirely apart from the instructional error, [defendant’s] conviction for using a
‘false compartment’ cannot stand for the independent reason that the evidence was
insufficient to sustain it.”
III. DISPOSITION
The judgment of the Court of Appeal is affirmed.
CHIN, J.
WE CONCUR:

GEORGE, C.J.
KENNARD, J.
WERDEGAR, J.
MORENO, J.
CORRIGAN, J.

17



CONCURRING OPINION BY BAXTER, J.
I agree with the majority that defendant’s conviction for using a false
compartment is not supported by substantial evidence. As the majority explains, a
false compartment within the meaning of Health and Safety Code section 11366.8
(section 11366.8) is a compartment that is “constructed in a manner to
intentionally deceive an untrained observer by concealing its existence,”
analogous to a suitcase with a false bottom. (Maj. opn., ante, at p. 9.) In this case,
the compartment defendant used was the space under the steering column and
behind the dashboard. Although this area is not ordinarily used for storing
personal property, its existence is apparent to anyone. This compartment is no
more false than the crevices between the seats of a vehicle, the area between the
floor mats and floor of a vehicle, or the glove box. Any of these compartments
might be used to conceal drugs, but the fact that these compartments existed would
be apparent to a reasonable observer. They are akin to a separate zippered shoe
compartment at the bottom of a suitcase, which similarly could be used to conceal
drugs but which in no way could be characterized as false. Because the evidence
did not support a finding that defendant possessed or used a false compartment
within the meaning of section 11366.8, the conviction must be reversed.
The analysis above is sufficient to dispose of this case, inasmuch as
defendant may not be retried on this count. (Burks v. United States (1978) 437
U.S. 1, 18.) But the majority goes on to hold that a compartment that is false
within the meaning given above—i.e., that is constructed in a manner to
1


intentionally deceive an untrained observer by concealing its existence—is
nonetheless not false within the meaning of the statute if the compartment is part
of the vehicle’s original factory equipment. In other words, the majority holds that
a false compartment does not qualify as a false compartment within the meaning
of the statute unless the compartment is a product of aftermarket changes to
original factory equipment. The distinction the majority purports to draw between
a defendant’s intent to conceal drugs in a vehicle’s false compartment that is
installed or created aftermarket (which is a felony) and a defendant’s same intent
to use the same false compartment when that compartment is part of the vehicle’s
original factory equipment (and, hence, innocent conduct) is unnecessary to the
decision in this case, is not supported by the statutory language, and leads to
absurd results. I write separately to distance myself from that analysis.
Section 11366.8, subdivision (d), provides: “The term ‘false compartment’
means any box, container, space, or enclosure that is intended for use or designed
for use to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent discovery of any controlled
substance within or attached to a vehicle, including, but not limited to, any of the
following: [¶] (1) False, altered, or modified fuel tanks. [¶] (2) Original factory
equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or changed. [¶] (3)
Compartment, space, or box that is added to, or fabricated, made, or created from,
existing compartments, spaces, or boxes within a vehicle.” Plainly, the main
clause of this sentence does not require a false compartment to be a modification,
alteration, or change to the original factory equipment. Indeed, subdivision (d)
prefaces its definition with the word “any,” which means “without limit and no
matter what kind.” (Delaney v. Superior Court (1990) 50 Cal.3d 785, 798.)
In reasoning that section 11366.8, subdivision (d) included any aftermarket
false compartment but excluded the same false compartment if offered as part of
the vehicle’s original factory equipment, the majority begins by echoing the Court
2
of Appeal’s contention that “ ‘[a] definition of “false compartment” that required
no modification of original factory equipment would be so consequential that [it]
is difficult to think the Legislature would not have provided such an example if
that was indeed its intention.’ ” (Maj. opn., ante, at p. 10.) The apparent
consequence of such a construction, according to the Court of Appeal, is that “the
statute would provide the basis for a separate felony offense in the majority of the
many cases in which drugs not in plain view are found in a vehicle,” such as when
drugs are hidden in “[t]he space between the cushions of the back seat of a
Chevrolet.” However, the Court of Appeal (and, by extension, the majority here)
was mistaken since, as discussed above, the crevices between the seats do not
constitute false compartments, nor would the mere fact that drugs were hidden in a
vehicle necessarily mean that the compartment in which they were found was
false. The test is, as the majority elsewhere acknowledges, “whether the
compartment itself was constructed in a manner to intentionally deceive an
untrained observer by concealing its existence.” (Maj. opn., ante, at p. 9.) Who
constructed it and when in the chain of distribution it was created are simply not
relevant to that determination.
The majority’s other rationale for excluding false compartments that are
part of the vehicle’s original factory equipment rests on a strained interpretation of
the examples provided in section 11366.8, subdivision (d), and the inappropriate
invocation of the ejusdem generis canon of construction. The majority fails to
recognize that “canons of statutory construction are merely aids to ascertaining
probable legislative intent” (Stone v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 503, 521,
fn. 10) and should not be applied to defeat the underlying legislative intent.
(Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1379,
1391.) Our ultimate task is to select the construction that comports most closely
with the apparent intent of the Legislature, with a view to promoting rather than
3
defeating the general purpose of the statute, and avoid an interpretation that would
lead to absurd consequences. (People v. Jenkins (1995) 10 Cal.4th 234, 246.) The
canons identified by the majority are often helpful to that determination, but they
are neither a “magical incantation” nor an “immutable rule.” (Estate of Banerjee
(1978) 21 Cal.3d 527, 539.) These canons do not apply in particular where, as
here, “no manifest reason exists why other persons or things than those
enumerated should not be included and thus exclusion would result in injustice,”
nor should the canons apply “to a statute the language of which may fairly
comprehend many different objects, some of which are mentioned merely by way
of example, without excluding others of similar nature.” (Id. at p. 539, fn. 10.)
The majority relies on ejusdem generis, the general principle that when a
particular class of things modifies general words, those general words are
construed as applying only to things of the same nature or class as those
enumerated. The majority reasons that this canon of statutory construction does
not allow us “to broaden the meaning of false compartment with regard to original
factory equipment beyond the restrictions set forth in the Legislature’s second
example” (maj. opn., ante, at p. 11), which refers to original factory equipment
“that is modified, altered, or changed.” (Health & Saf. Code, § 11366.8, subd.
(d).) However, out of all the cases cited by the majority, only one applied the
doctrine of ejusdem generis where, as here, the statute prefaced its list of examples
with the words “including, but not limited to” (Kraus v. Trinity Management
Services, Inc. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 116 (Kraus))—and even Kraus provides no
support for the majority.
Kraus considered whether a landlord’s charge for pre-lease administrative
services was an unrefundable security fee prohibited by Civil Code section 1950.5.
At the time, section 1950.5, subdivision (b), read as follows: “ ‘As used in this
section, “security” means any payment, fee, deposit or charge, including, but not
4
limited to, an advance payment of rent, used or to be used for any purpose,
including, but not limited to, any of the following: [¶] (1) The compensation of a
landlord for a tenant’s default in the payment of rent. [¶] (2) The repair of
damages to the premises, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, caused by the tenant
or by a guest or licensee of the tenant. [¶] (3) The cleaning of the premises upon
termination of the tenancy. [¶] (4) To remedy future defaults by the tenant in any
obligation under the rental agreement to restore, replace, or return personal
property or appurtenances, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, if the security
deposit is authorized to be applied thereto by the rental agreement.’ ” (Kraus,
supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 139.) We observed that “[a]ll of the examples of a security
set forth in subdivision (b) of Civil Code section 1950.5 are charges intended to
secure the landlord against future tenant defaults” and that the section therefore
excluded “[a] fee imposed at the outset of the tenancy to reimburse the landlord
for expenses incurred for such purposes as providing application forms, listing,
interviewing, screening the applicant, checking credit references, and similar
purposes.” (Kraus, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 141, italics added.) The latter fees
served to recoup the immediate pre-lease costs incurred by the landlord and
therefore were outside the plain meaning of a security as “ ‘something given,
deposited, or pledged to make certain the fulfillment of an obligation.’ ” (Id. at p.
140.) Here, by contrast, a compartment comes within the ordinary meaning of a
false compartment regardless of whether the compartment is part of the vehicle’s
original factory equipment or is added at a later stage of the marketing process.
The majority’s construction thus fails to accord the proper significance to the
proviso “including, but not limited to,” which “suggests that a broad construction
was intended” (In re Forfeiture of $5,264 (Mich. 1989) 439 N.W.2d 246, 251, fn.
7) and “connotes an illustrative listing, one purposefully capable of enlargement.”
(Id. at p. 252; accord, Turtle Island Restoration v. National Marine (9th Cir. 2003)
5
340 F.3d 969, 975 [“Congress used the phrase ‘including but not limited to’ and in
so doing, contemplated that the list of potential obligations that the United States
had under the Agreement was not exhausted by those listed in the subsection”];
Cooper Distributing Co. v. Amana Refrigeration, Inc. (3d Cir. 1995) 63 F.3d 262,
280 [“since the phrase ‘including, but not limited to’ plainly expresses a contrary
intent, the doctrine of ejusdem generis is inapplicable”]; State ex rel. Stenehjem v.
Philip Morris (N.D. 2007) 732 N.W.2d 720, 729 [“Use of the words, ‘including,
without limitation,’ reflects a contrary intention that an enumeration is not
exhaustive, rendering the doctrine of ejusdem generis inapplicable”].)
Instead of Kraus, I find instructive People v. Clark-van Brunt (1984) 158
Cal.App.3d Supp. 8, which is cited in In re Forfeiture of $5,264, supra, 439
N.W.2d at page 255. Clark-van Brunt construed Health and Safety Code section
11014.5, subdivision (a), which defines “drug paraphernalia.” That subdivision
provides that drug paraphernalia means “all equipment, products and materials of
any kind which are designed for use or marketed for use, in planting, propagating,
cultivating, harvesting, manufacturing, compounding, . . . ingesting, inhaling, or
otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance in violation of
this subdivision” and then provides a list of such items, preceded by the proviso
that drug paraphernalia “includes, but is not limited to [the following].” The
appellate department concluded that “[t]he clear import of the phrase ‘but is not
limited to’ signifies that the Legislature intended the definition of ‘drug
paraphernalia’ to be expansive and flexible. Thus, the expressly enumerated items
are simply exemplary of those items which may constitute ‘drug paraphernalia’
rather than delineating the parameters of the subject.” (People v. Clark-van Brunt,
supra, 158 Cal.App.3d at pp. Supp. 17-18.) Here, where a statute uses similar
words concerning a similar topic, I would similarly construe the phrase “but not
limited to” to be expansive and flexible and the items following to be exemplary
6
but not exclusive of the items covered by the statute. (See Assem. Com. on Public
Safety, Analysis of Assem. Bill No. 1760 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.) as introduced
Mar. 4, 1993, p. 2 [bill prohibiting false compartments “is similar to the law
prohibiting the possession of drug paraphernalia”].)1
Moreover, the majority offers no reason why the Legislature would have
wanted to make the possession, use, or control of false compartments with the
intent to conceal drugs therein a felony, unless the compartment is part of the
vehicle’s original factory equipment, in which case the possession of the
compartment with the requisite intent is no crime at all under this section. The
harm occasioned by the concealment of drugs in a false compartment that is part
of the vehicle’s original factory equipment is identical to the harm occasioned by
the concealment of drugs in the same compartment that was installed as an
aftermarket modification. (See People v. Giordano (2007) 42 Cal.4th 644, 660-
661; accord, Zurich American v. ABM Industries (2d Cir. 2005) 397 F.3d 158, 165
[applying ejusdem generis “would require us to ignore the phrase ‘but not limited
to’ ” in the insurance policy].)

1
The majority’s construction of section 11366.8, subdivision (d) is also
internally inconsistent. The majority theorizes that “had the Legislature intended
for original factory equipment of a vehicle to be included within the term ‘false
compartment’ whether or not the equipment had been modified, altered, or
changed
, it would not have included, as a second example of a false compartment,
‘Original factory equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or changed,” in
subdivision (d)(2) of section 11366.8. (Maj. opn., ante, at p. 10.) Yet, in
subdivision (d)(1), the Legislature included an example of a “fuel tank” that was
either itself “[f]alse” or “altered or modified”—thus encompassing original factory
equipment (a fuel tank) that is false. The majority correctly observes that the word
“false” with respect to a fuel tank “means ‘not genuine’ or ‘not real,’ ” but that
indicates only that the fuel tank is “an extra, nonusable fuel tank” (maj. opn., ante,
at p. 13, fn. 2)—not that it was an addition, alteration, or modification of the
vehicle’s original factory equipment.
7


Finally, the majority’s interpretation of the statute runs afoul of the canon
of statutory construction that directs us to interpret legislative enactments to avoid
absurd results. (See People v. Valladoli (1996) 13 Cal.4th 590, 604.) In seeming
recognition of the implausibility of its construction of the statute, the majority
seeks refuge in the rule of lenity, under which an ambiguous penal statute is
construed, in very limited circumstances, in favor of the defendant. The rule, of
course, does not apply every time there are two or more reasonable interpretations
of a penal statute. (People v. Cole (2006) 38 Cal.4th 964, 986.) Rather, the rule
applies “ ‘only if the court can do no more than guess what the legislative body
intended; there must be an egregious ambiguity and uncertainty to justify invoking
the rule.’ ” (People v. Avery (2002) 27 Cal.4th 49, 58, italics added.) No such
uncertainty exists here. Under the majority’s approach, section 11366.8 would not
apply to a defendant who buys a new car with a factory-installed false
compartment and uses the compartment to conceal drugs, but would apply to a
defendant who asked the dealer to install the same compartment in the prior year’s
model of that vehicle. At the same time, drug dealers will be motivated to conceal
their goods in the false bottom and walls of a trailer, as long as the trailer was built
with those compartments originally. This would be flatly inconsistent with the
Legislature’s expressed concern that, “under current law, an auto shop which
builds and installs false compartments for the transportation of controlled
substances may openly admit their purpose to law enforcement officers and feel
secure in the fact that they have violated no law and can not be prosecuted unless
they actually possess an illegal controlled substance.” (Sen. Com. on Judiciary,
Analysis of Assem. Bill No. 1760 (1993-1994 Reg. Sess.) as introduced Mar. 4,
1993, p. 2 (Senate Committee Analysis).)
Indeed, the majority’s interpretation rips a substantial hole in the coverage
of the statute. An illegitimate boat or trailer manufacturer who includes a false
8
compartment for drug smuggling in the vehicle will be immune from liability
under this statute, as will the individuals who actually possess or use the false
compartment to store or conceal drugs. And if a legitimate vehicle manufacturer
creates a false compartment for a lawful purpose—say, to safeguard jewelry—
drug dealers once again will be immune from using those compartments to
smuggle drugs. It is difficult to reconcile this cribbed construction of the statute
with the Legislature’s expectation that this law “would provide a necessary tool
for law enforcement efforts to combat increasing use of false compartments in the
drug trade.” (Senate Committee Analysis, supra, p. 2.)
The majority’s unduly narrow construction of the statute also will shift the
inquiry at trial from whether a compartment is false to whether a false
compartment has been “modified, altered, or changed in any way.” (Maj. opn.,
ante, at p. 2.) Is it sufficient if the defendant has unscrewed a panel of an original
compartment that would otherwise qualify as false and reattached it, but in doing
so has screwed it in less tightly than before, resulting in a slightly larger interior
space? Has the original factory equipment been “changed in any way” if the
defendant does no more than remove a panel of such a compartment and reattach
it? What if the defendant changes the panel’s color or places a sticker on it? Does
equipment installed by the dealer, such as a spoiler or upgraded audio equipment
containing false compartments, qualify as original factory equipment? I find no
evidence that the Legislature was concerned with these questions or believed that
public safety turned on the answers to them. (Cf. Dyna-Med, Inc. v. Fair
Employment & Housing Com., supra, 43 Cal.3d at pp. 1387-1388 [punitive
damages “are neither equitable nor corrective” and thus are not included within the
administrative remedies under the Fair Employment and Housing Act].) The line
the majority draws is unnecessary to resolve the case and may well have
unintended adverse consequences.
9
For the foregoing reasons, I join only in the judgment that there was
insufficient evidence of a false compartment under section 11366.8.
BAXTER, J.
10

See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion People v. Arias
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion


Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
XXX 153 Cal.App.4th 848
Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.

S155571
Date Filed: November 6, 2008
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:

Superior
County: Contra Costa
Judge: John W. Kennedy

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Appellant:

Richard M. Doctoroff, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Respondent:

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A.
Engler, Assistant Attorney General, Seth K. Schalit, John H. Deist, Laurence K. Sullivan and Jill M.
Thayer, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.



Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

Richard M. Doctoroff
523 Octavia Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 285-1282

Jill M. Thayer
Deputy Attorney General
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 1100
San Francisco, CA 94102-7004
(415) 703-5954


Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part a judgment of conviction of criminal offenses. This case presents the following issue: Does Health & Safety Code section 11366.8, which prohibits the possession or use of a "false compartment" in a vehicle for the purpose of storing, concealing, or transporting controlled substances, require an addition to or modification of the original factory equipment of the vehicle, as opposed to using the glove compartment or secreting contraband behind a panel in the vehicle?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Category:Status:
Thu, 11/06/200845 Cal. 4th 169, 195 P.3d 103, 85 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1S155571Review - Criminal Appealclosed; remittitur issued

Parties
1The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by John H. Deist
Office of the Attorney General
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 11000
San Francisco, CA

2The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Jill M. Thayer
Office of the Attorney General
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 11000
San Francisco, CA

3Arias, John R. (Defendant and Appellant)
Represented by Richard M. Doctoroff
Attorney at Law
5230 Octavia Street
San Francisco, CA


Opinion Authors
OpinionChief Justice Ronald M. George, Justice Carlos R. Moreno, Justice Carol A. Corrigan, Justice Joyce L. Kennard, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, Justice Ming W. Chin
ConcurJustice Marvin R. Baxter

Disposition
Nov 6 2008Opinion: Affirmed

Dockets
Aug 22 2007Received premature petition for review
 
Aug 27 2007Record requested
 
Aug 27 2007Case start: Petition for review filed
  John R. Arias, appellant Ricahrd M. Doctoroff, CAP/appointed
Aug 28 20072nd petition for review filed
  counsel for resp. (People) John Deist, Deputy AG
Aug 30 2007Received Court of Appeal record
  1 file jacket, 1 accordian jacket, briefs, and sealed documents
Oct 24 2007Petition for review granted (criminal case)
  The Respondent's petition for review is granted. The Appellant's petition for review is denied. Kennard, J., is of the opinion the matter should be granted as to Issue #3. Votes: George, C.J., Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, Moreno and Corrigan, JJ.
Nov 8 2007Counsel appointment order filed
  Upon request of appellant for appointment of counsel, Richard Doctoroff is hereby appointed to represent appellant on the appeal now pending in this court. Appellant's brief on the merits must be served and file on or before thirty (30) days from the date respondent's opening brief on the merits is filed.
Nov 15 2007Request for extension of time filed
  counsel for respondent requests extension of time to December 24, 2007, to file opening brief on the merits.
Nov 26 2007Extension of time granted
  On application of respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the opening brief on the merits is extended to and including December 24, 2007.
Dec 18 2007Received additional record
  envelope of exhibits - trial photos
Dec 21 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
  counsel for resp. (People)
Jan 16 2008Request for extension of time filed
  counsel for appellant requests extension of time to February 20, 2008, to file the answer brief on the merits.
Jan 18 2008Extension of time granted
  On application of appellant and good cause appearing it ordered that the time to serve and file the answer brief on the merits is extended to and including February 20, 2008.
Feb 19 2008Answer brief on the merits filed
  counsel for aplt. (J. Arias)
Mar 3 2008Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
  counsel for respondent.
Mar 20 2008Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty Doctoroff
Jul 30 2008Case ordered on calendar
  to be argued Tuesday, September 2, 2008, at 1:30 p.m., in San Francisco
Sep 2 2008Cause argued and submitted
 
Nov 5 2008Notice of forthcoming opinion posted
 
Nov 6 2008Opinion filed: Judgment affirmed in full
  OPINION BY: Chin, J. ----- joined by : George, C.J., Kennard, Werdegar, Moreno, and Corrigan, JJ. CONCURRING OPINION BY: Baxter, J.
Dec 9 2008Remittitur issued (criminal case)
 
Dec 18 2008Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty Doctoroff
Jan 16 2009Received:
  receipt for remittitur from CA 1/2

Briefs
Dec 21 2007Opening brief on the merits filed
 
Feb 19 2008Answer brief on the merits filed
 
Mar 3 2008Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
 
If you'd like to submit a brief document to be included for this opinion, please submit an e-mail to the SCOCAL website
Jul 4, 2011
Annotated by Arnoldo Cantu

Facts
On May 25, 2005, Officer Nick Voyvodich stopped a 1996 Lexus because it lacked a front license plate. Officer Voyvodich had the driver and sole occupant, John Arias exit the vehicle before he searched the car. While searching the vehicle, Officer Voyvodich noticed a plastic ball containing a white crystalline substance sticking out of the gap between the dashboard and steering column. The plastic ball contained three baggies of methamphetamine. Mr. Arias was charged, inter alia, with a violation of Section 11366.8(a) of the California Health and Safety code—possessing a false compartment. Section 11366.8(d) provides that a “false compartment” means “any box, container, space, or enclosure that is intended for use or designed for use to conceal, hide, or otherwise prevent discovery of any controlled substance within or attached to a vehicle, included, but not limited to, any of the following: (1) False, altered, or modified fuel tanks. (2) Original factory equipment of a vehicle that is modified, altered, or changed. (3) Compartment, space, or box that is added to, or fabricated, made, or created from, existing compartments, spaces, or boxes within a vehicle.” Mr. Arias, however, had not changed, altered, or modified any portion of the car, but rather only stuffed the drugs in an originally manufactured area of the car that was not readily visible.

Procedural History
The trial court, in regard to Mr. Arias’s alleged violation of Section 11366.8(a), instructed the jury that “every person who possesses, uses, or controls a false compartment with the intent to store, conceal, smuggle or transport a controlled substance within the false compartment is guilty of a violation of Health and Safety Section 11366.8(a). In order to prove this crime, each of the following elements must be proved: One, a person possessed, used, or controlled a false compartment; two, that person had the specific intent to conceal, smuggle or transport a controlled substance within the false compartment; a false compartment is a space in a vehicle that is neither designed nor intended for storage or transportation of personal items, but is, nevertheless, used to conceal controlled substances even without modification of the physical configuration of the space.”
The Court of Appeal reversed the defendant’s conviction under Section 11366.8(a), concluding that the trial court gave an erroneous instruction defining false compartment and that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove that the defendant used of possessed a false compartment within the meaning of Section 11366.8.
The Supreme Court of California affirmed the Court of Appeal.

Issues
Whether Health and Safety Code Section 11366.8 subdivision (a) requires that a defendant add to, or modify, a vehicle’s original factory equipment as opposed to using an existing pre-market enclosure, such as a glove compartment, or hiding controlled substances behind a factory-installed panel in the vehicle.

Holding
The California Supreme Court interpreted 11366.8(a) to exclude from its definition of “false compartment” a vehicle’s original factory equipment that has not been modified, altered, or changed in any way, therefore affirming the Court of Appeal.

Analysis
The trial court’s jury instruction that a false compartment could be so “even without any modification of the physical configuration of the space” was based on the interpretation of the statutory definition of false compartment given in People v. Gonzalez, 116 Cal.app.4th 1405 (2004). There, the court concluded that a false compartment under § 11366.8(a) required “no modification of the physical configuration of the space.” Id. at 1414.
In reviewing the text of the statute, the California Supreme Court followed a rule of statutory construction that requires every part of a statute be presumed to have some meaning and to not be treated as meaningless unless absolutely necessary. If the legislature had intended original factory equipment to be a “false compartment” by virtue of one hiding a controlled substance behind it, the statute’s example in §11366.8(d)(2) would have no effect and be rendered meaningless.
The court also applied the rule of construction known as ejusdem generis—when a particular class of things modifies general words, those general words are construed as applying only to things of the same nature or class as those enumerated. Although the definition of false compartment was not limited by the three examples given in § 11366.8(d), the meaning of the general words “original factory equipment of a vehicle” within the second example had been restricted by the legislature to refer to factory equipment that was modified, altered, or changed. The court concluded that the legislature expressed its intention to define a false compartment as requiring something other than original factory-installed equipment by conjoining the words “modified, altered, or changed” in its limitation of the character of original factory equipment in § 11366.8(d)(2).
Looking to the legislative history, the court concluded that the sponsors of the bill were targeting individuals and auto shops that until that time could freely admit to an officer that they were manufacturing or using hidden compartments for the transportation of controlled substances and do so with impunity, confident that there was no law prohibiting such conduct. Therefore, the legislative intent of § 11366.8 was to punish the individual who manufactures or uses false compartments that are fabricated by someone other than the manufacturer of the original vehicle equipment.
With no evidence presented that Mr. Arias had modified, altered, or changed the original factory equipment in his vehicle, the court concluded that the trial court’s instruction was prejudicial. Moreover, the court agreed with the Court of Appeal that, wholly apart from the instructional error, there was insufficient evidence to uphold a conviction for using a false compartment against Mr. Arias. The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s judgment that the definition of “false compartment” in Gonzalez was incompatible with the purpose of the statute. To the extent that the holding disagreed with Gonzalez, 116 Cal. App. 4th, Gonzalez was overturned.

Relevant Cases
People v. Gonzalez 116 Cal.app.4th 1405 (2004)

Tags
Canon of construction, ejusdem generis, California Health and Safety Code 11366.8, false compartment, possession of false compartment