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"Trap" is a colloquial term for a secret compartment in an automobile. It can be intended to hide legal items, such as handguns or valuables, from thieves. But it can also be used to hide contraband, such as illegal drugs, from searches by authorities.
Until the 1980s, drugs trafficked in cars in the U.S. tended to be hidden in obvious places such as wheel wells or spare tires. In the early 1980s, the first magnetically or hydraulically actuated secret compartments, dubbed "urban traps" by the Drug Enforcement Administration, started to appear - often in door panels, dashboards, seats and roofs. By the early 1990s, however, police had learned to detect such traps by looking for suspicious buttons and switches. More recent traps have no visible controls, are electronically controlled and may require complicated procedures for access. For example, one trap found in the airbag compartment of a U.S. car in 2012 would only open if a driver was in the seat, all doors were closed (to prevent the trap from opening during a roadside police search), the defroster was turned on and a magnetic card was swiped over a sensor hidden in an air-conditioning vent.
The legality of traps is dependent on the jurisdiction in which they are used. In 2012, Alfred Anaya, famous among rich clients in California for his skill in installing sophisticated traps, was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison under U.S. federal law as a co-conspirator in a drug-trafficking operation. The conviction relied on testimony that Anaya had seen one of his clients stash some $800,000 in cash in a trap. The prosecution successfully argued that Anaya must have deduced from this that the trap was to be used for drug trafficking.
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