Like federal legislators, state legislators cannot be arrested during a legislative session. It prevents the executive from hauling in the legislators and forcing them, under duress, to vote in certain ways.
The statutory concept came originally from Roman times when the Emperor would have the Praetorian Guard arrest Senators during meetings of the Senate if the Emperor did not see a voting going the way he wanted.
The English perfected the practice and that practice carried over into the colonies. Thought it was never intended, the law is regularly applied to instances of personal misconduct. Several years ago in North Carolina, a member of their general assembly was in a vehicular collision causing injury. The collision was his fault. But, he was on his way to the General Assembly for a vote and could not be arrested.
Now in Georgia we have an instance of this. David Graves, after a night on the town in Cobb County, was stopped for a DUI and asserted his right to legislative immunity.
When stopped as a suspected drunken driver in February, Macon state Rep. David Graves asked a police officer to look at his legislative license plate, said he was entitled to legislative immunity and asked the officer to “work with me,” according to a video played during a court hearing Tuesday.
While he was waiting to see if he would be arrested for driving under the influence, Graves said Tuesday, he didn’t initially tell Cobb County officers of the Georgia Constitution’s ban on arresting lawmakers during sessions of the General Assembly.
“I didn’t want him to think I was asking for something special,” Graves said at his hearing, during which his lawyer confirmed that the Macon Republican was indeed asking for legislative immunity.
There is much, much more in the article. Graves says he did not initially assert the constitutional right, but he was eventually given it.
According to the tape, Cobb police officer Victor A. Verola told Graves, “It’s my opinion you are well over the legal limit, and you’re an unsafe driver.”
When Verola said he would charge Graves with DUI, Graves said, “Can you work with me on this? I’ve got some major issues here. I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m really not.”
Graves asked Verola to look at his legislative license plate, tag number SR137, and said he was entitled to legislative immunity.
The House of Representatives can take up the matter if there is a complaint. Likewise, should one of Graves’s two Republican opponents for is State House seat get a copy of that video, it would make a powerful and damning campaign commercial.
Graves’ political career is not over, make no mistake. He is in a solidly Republican district. But he now has two Republican opponents. Turning that tape into a campaign commercial could be a fatal blow.