Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Stand Back, Because I Am Above The Law!

From the Atlanta Journal/Constitution:

David Graves is a state representative for the state of Georgia. On February 15 he was caught at a police roadblock and arrested for drunken driving.

This is his second offense - he has another drunken driving charge when he ran a red light in March 2004.

Graves is the chairman of the House committee overseeing laws governing the alcohol industry. He says that he and other committee chairmen went from the Capitol to a dinner meeting, where they conferred about the status of legislation and plans for the next legislative day, and that such a meeting was tantamount to a committee meeting. Therefore during his dinner and immediatly afterwards he says he cannot be arrested during sessions of the General Assembly because of a 1789 law that says that a lawmaker cannot be arrested during sessions of the General Assembly, legislative committee meetings or while they're "in transit," except in cases of "treason, felony, or breach of the peace." Such provisions were generally written to protect lawmakers from political intimidation.

Huh?

The Macon Republican is using an obscure provision in the state constitution to argue that he should not be prosecuted for a DUI he received in Cobb County in February, during the 2005 session of the General Assembly.

"Just because you're having dinner with other politicians doesn't make it a committee meeting. They could be at a casino doing the same thing, and he could allege it was a committee meeting, even though they're gambling. Only in this case, they were drinking — which to me is another indication it was not a committee meeting."

- Gary Jones, the assistant solicitor in Cobb State Court


The prosecutor said Graves could not remember details of the meeting such as whom he met with or which laws were discussed. And Graves is the chairman of the House committee overseeing laws governing the alcohol industry?

As a lawmaker, Graves cannot break the law — at least not while the Legislature is at work. Or so he says.

This clown is also the representative that came up with House Resolution 240 which designates April 29th of each year as "Dale Earnhardt Day in Georgia". Wow.

Georgia's legislative immunity provision has been part of its constitution since 1789. It's one of many across the country. But in recent years legislators and staffers have tried to use immunity laws to defend themselves against nonpolitical charges. In 1996, a Virginia judge rejected a legislative aide's immunity claim and convicted her of drunken driving. And in 2002, courts rejected a Wisconsin senator's attempt to use the provision to shield himself from charges of illegally raising campaign contributions.

In 1985, then-state Attorney General Michael Bowers weighed in on the topic in Georgia, issuing a legal opinion that the provision in the constitution might give legislators immunity from physical arrest. But, he concluded, "There is no constitutional immunity for members of the General Assembly from prosecution for speeding violations or other violations of criminal law."

Cobb State Court Judge Irma B. Glover is expected to make public her ruling today on Graves' "legislative immunity" defense. His trial is set for today. Jones expects today's ruling will delay Graves' trial and won't be the last word on the immunity issue. "I'm sure either side will appeal, which means we'll end up in the Supreme Court over this constitutional provision," he said.

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