POLITICS

Virginia law prevents state lawmaker from being arrested

A Virginia state law that makes legislators immune from misdemeanors for part of the year stopped police from arresting a state legislator suspected of being under the influence of alcohol over the weekend. Virginia House Del. Chris Hurst, a Democrat, was stopped by police on Sunday after a police officer noticed Hurst’s vehicle swerving out of the traffic lanes and “traveling over the posted speed limit for a brief period of time,” the Christiansburg Police Department said in a release. Hurst was pulled over by Lt. Stephen Swecker. He blew a .085 in a field breath test, which is above the legal limit of 0.08, after completing field sobriety tests.However, Swecker — who, according to the department, is experienced in DUI detection and enforcement — let Hurst go because he determined that the Virginia legislator would be below the legal limit by the time he would be able to do a formal breathalyzer test. The department said Swecker was also aware of a provision under the Virginia Constitution that reads “unless they have committed treason, a felony, or a breach of peace, legislators are immune from arrest while the General Assembly is in session.”The Virginia legislature has been in session since January 8, and is expected to go until early March, according to the legislative session calendar. Neither Swecker nor Hurst mentioned the law during their interaction, the department said.In an email to CNN affiliate WSLS, Mary Pettitt, the commonwealth’s attorney in Montgomery County, confirmed the statute.”Hurst was stopped and detained on suspicion of DUI by Lt. Stephen Swecker,” she told WSLS. “No arrest was made. Under the Constitution, no arrest could have been made.”On Thursday, Sen. Bryce Reeves, a Republican, introduced a resolution to amend the state Constitution and change the immunity language.In response to the incident, the Giles County Republican Committee on Thursday called for Hurst to resign, saying in a series of Facebook posts that there was a need to “restore faith in leadership.” Those comments were a callback to Hurst’s own words in 2019, when the legislator called for the resignation of Gov. Ralph Northam in the wake of a scandal surrounding the Democrat appearing in blackface in a past yearbook photo.”Hurst should take his own advice — follow his own standard — and resign at the call of his constituents so that faith in our leadership can be restored,” the committee wrote. When asked by a reporter whether Hurst should resign, Northam said, “Oh, that is certainly a decision he is going to need to make.”Hurst acknowledged the “grave mistake” and apologized for the incident in a statement provided to CNN. He also posted the statement on Facebook on Wednesday.”It has been brought up that sitting members of the General Assembly cannot be charged with crimes while they are in session. While true, I don’t agree that I should be immune from prosecution when warranted,” Hurst said.In its release, the police department noted that the provision in the state Constitution “makes it highly unlikely that Hurst could have prosecuted in court even if he had been arrested.””I never avoid responsibility and accept the consequences of my actions. I am not above the law,” Hurst wrote.

Per: CNN

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