College students from Concordia University in St. Paul have encouraged Minnesota legislators to consider making misdemeanor drunk driving charges a breach of the peace under Minnesota law. The students apparently lobbied legislators to make the change so that lawmakers in the state can be charged with driving under the influence while the legislature is in session.
Many people have heard of the concept of diplomatic immunity that is granted to certain foreign dignitaries. The U.S. Constitution provides lawmakers in Congress with certain immunities while Congress is in session, except in cases of “Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace.”
A similar provision is included in the Minnesota Constitution and applies to lawmakers in the state while the legislature is in session. The legislature is now considering a bill that would specify DWI offenses as a breach of the peace to clearly remove the immunity from arrest for Minnesota legislators when it comes to Minnesota DWI laws.
Minnesota Representatives from Cottage Grove and Waseca introduced a measure in the legislature to make the change. A Golden Valley Representative also co-sponsors the bipartisan measure to re-define the law for the purposes of Minnesota lawmakers. The Golden Valley Representative does not “know for certain if the bill accomplishes a significant change in law.”
Commentators are not sure if any legislator has ever used a state issued card related to the constitutional immunity provision to avoid a DWI arrest. The drive to redefine the law specific to DWI charges may be indicative of the overall willingness of lawmakers to make changes to Minnesota’s DWI and implied consent laws.
Minnesota lawmakers have been charged with DWI, from time to time. One Minnesota Representative was charged with DWI after an arrest in Wright County in September 2010. The legislature was not in session at the time, so the immunity clause may not have applied. Similarly, a Minnesota Senator from South St. Paul pled guilty to DWI charges after an arrest that came following the final day of the legislative session in 2007.
Measures in each chamber of the legislature are expected to receive consideration this week.
Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, “Minnesota House bill would prevent DWI immunity for lawmakers,” Dennis Lein, March 20, 2012