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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: DUI turns into IOU for senators

I really like to see initiative in public servants, and I’m also a believer of liquid inspiration. So, when these elements combined on Jan. 6 when Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith was pulled over for reckless driving and criminal speeding, I was intrigued. DUI is a serious topic. So is the fact that Smith (and his legal counsel) suggested that, pursuant to an 1891 amendment to Kentucky’s state constitution, he could not be arrested and that all charges should be dropped.

Smith’s actions revealed a not-so-subtle truth about American government: When you’re in power, you can get away with almost anything. Government officials — especially state and federal senators — shouldn’t just be held to the law but should be expected to rise above it, functioning as beacons of respectable citizenship instead of flashing their IDs to get out of speeding tickets.

The debacle concerns an amendment in the Kentucky state constitution — also in the U.S. 

Constitution and a variety of other states’ constitutions, including Arizona’s — that states “members of the General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason, felony, breach or surety of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance on the sessions of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House they shall not be questioned in any other place.”

Smith was caught speeding with a .088 blood alcohol level on the first day of 2015 legislative session. 

He wasn’t leaving the chambers of the government or any state facility but was returning from what basically sounds like a kickback much later in the evening.

The original amendment made sense back in the day (1891, y’all) because it prevented members of the legislature from being stopped by crooked cops or sketchy judiciary members on their way to meetings in order to inhibit quorum or prevent a vote from passing. Nowadays, the amendment seems like an unnecessary oversight and has the potential (as in this case) to be used inappropriately.

Smith may have panicked, which is totally fair when someone encounters the police. Good thing Smith is a white male Republican. I’m sure, like Leslie Knope, he’s embraced his status. Knope, the main character in Parks and Recreation, responds to fierce community and constituent opposition by starting to just do whatever the hell she wants.

In 2011, Arizona state Sen. Scott Bundgaard was released and not charged after a domestic dispute and altercation with his girlfriend — who was arrested — on the basis of this immunity. In 1988, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer hit another vehicle on the highway while driving under the influence, and, even though she did not expressly state she was a senator or invoke this privilege, was released because the arresting officers knew she had immunity. This is ironic given what we know in retrospect: Brewer would go on to champion intense DUI legislation. No one was harmed, although there was severe damage to both vehicles, and she was never charged or prosecuted.

The constitutional provision, however, says nothing about prosecution post-legislature.

ASU constitutional law professor Paul Bender told The Arizona Republic in 2010, “Legislative immunity would not justify them in dropping the charges. … It doesn’t say ‘privileged from prosecution.’”

Senators, and other public officials, are representatives of their constituencies and should, therefore, reflect them. According to Senate President Robert Stivers, Senate members have not been separately punished by the body when faced with charges, and the reaction is instead left up to the constituency.

The constituency should call for a recall or post-legislation prosecution. In Kentucky, first-time DUI offenders can suffer license suspension, jail time and hefty fines, and those are just the legal consequences. Non-official consequences range from job loss to massive insurance hikes and vastly reduced future employability. Should Brewer, Bundgaard and Smith be held accountable for their crimes? I think so.

In my experience, the best way to get out of a ticket is to have just left Urgent Care and be violently shaking and throwing up out your driver’s side window (just barely missing the cop as he approaches you). When the officer asks if you’ve been drinking, show him your prescription and then look like you might yack again, this time on him.

I’ve never considered running for Senate, but that definitely sounds like an easier alternative.

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Nick Havey is a junior studying physiology and Spanish. Follow him on Twitter.

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