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Laws Are for the Little People

Lots of government officials enjoy legal immunity with a wink and a nod. But in Arizona, immunity is actually official.

Douglas Graham / Loudoun Now/NewscomDouglas Graham / Loudoun Now/NewscomFor aww-shucks acknowledgment of abuse of power, it's hard to beat Arizona-style honesty. When informed by a sheriff's deputy that doing 97 miles per hour in a 55 zone was a tad excessive, state Rep. Paul Mosley (R-District 5) answered, "Well, I was doing 120 earlier...This goes 140. That's what I like about it."

Under fire from the public and the press, Rep. Mosley apologized both for speeding and for his "jokes about frequently driving over 100 miles per hour." But he drove away from that incident free as a bird, and likely faces no consequences more perilous than what the voters can muster up at the ballot box. As he explained to the deputy, he enjoys "legislative immunity."

Lots of government officials seem to enjoy immunity with a wink and a nod. But in Arizona, immunity is actually official.

"Members of the legislature shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace, and they shall not be subject to any civil process during the session of the legislature, nor for fifteen days next before the commencement of each session," according to Arizona law.

But I'm guessing that Mosley's legislative colleagues aren't thanking him for the publicity about their sweet situation. After all, the first rule of powerful government weasel club is that you don't talk about powerful government weasel club. If you do, the peasants get all upset. And then you might lose some perks—at least on paper.

That's what happened in Minnesota when college political science students researched the application of legislative immunity in that state. They found out that when the legislature was in session, so was happy hour.

"There is no evidence that legislators have successfully evaded arrest for drunken driving using their immunity," noted the Minneapolis StarTribune, "but neither could researchers find a case of a Minnesota legislator who was arrested for drunken driving during sessions (although many have been arrested for drunken driving at other times)."

Of course legislators weren't arrested for drunken driving during legislative sessions. Why would cops bother when the arrestee would just flash a "get out of jail free" card (a real one, issued by the Minnesota Secretary of State)? Those cards are no longer printed and issued in Minnesota, but further reforms of legislators' privileges stalled amidst wrangling over the limits of the practice.

What's unfortunate here is that lawmakers historically granted themselves such immunity to protect against politically motivated arrests by the king, or governor, or whoever might try to lock lawmakers away to affect the outcome of a vote. These immunity provisions were legitimate protections against real abuses—or, originally they were, anyway. Too bad they've degenerated into a comfy privilege for lead-foot legislators with drinking problems.

Not that a privilege has to be formally recorded in black and white to be real.

Nothing on paper prescribed especially lenient treatment of Broward County, Florida, Judge Giselle Pollack, who habitually decided the fate of defendants in the county's drug court while she herself was three sheets to the wind.

"Pollack admitted showing up drunk on the job in December 2013," reports the Sun-Sentinel. "She later promised the JQC it would not happen again, only to show up drunk a second time in March 2014. Weeks later, Pollack left a Gainesville rehabilitation program, got drunk while driving back to South Florida, and got into an accident, injuring another driver in Plantation."

For the physical mayhem she inflicted on the road, as well as whatever casualties she inflicted in the courtroom, Pollack was pressured to resign and take another public sector job. She landed on her feet, providing well-marinated legal counsel to the clients of the Broward County Public Defender's Office.

Nor is there any written guidance specifying leniency for presidential offspring nabbed buying booze with fake ID (Jenna and Barbara Bush) or photographed smoking marijuana (Malia Obama) in jurisdictions where that's still illegal. Of course, everybody should get a pass on such victimless conduct. But the kid gloves always seem to come out for the connected, even when their connections advocate tougher treatment of everybody else.

If the folks making the law and presiding over its application are cutting each other slack, it's no surprise that those enforcing it expect to enjoy similar leeway. That's the sort of leeway that lets FBI agent Chase Bishop keep his service weapon after accidentally shooting a Denver bar patron when the fed reached to retrieve a gun that dropped to the floor while he was dancing. Bishop still faces a charge of second-degree assault, but even before legal proceedings get under way, he's already getting better treatment than any mere civilian could hope for.

Bishop would likely get better treatment than you or I even if he'd deliberately and lethally opened fire in that bar.

"[T]here is built-in leeway for police, and the very breadth of this leeway is why criminal charges against police are so rare," Walter Katz, of the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, told The Nation in 2014 for a story about "why it's impossible to indict a cop."

A lot of that leeway is from colleagues. A 2000 National Institute of Justice survey of police officers found that "a majority (52.4 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that it is not unusual for police officers to 'turn a blind eye' to other officers' improper conduct."

Photo Credit: Douglas Graham / Loudoun Now/Newscom

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  • SQRLSY One||

    James Bovard documented (many years ago; one of his books was "Freedom in Chains") that sons and daughters of CongressCritters never get prosecuted for having or selling drugs, even after getting busted. He had compiled a LONG list of such offenses!

    Then there was Al Gore and his wife having a son in 8th or 9th grade get busted for pot. Kiddo got off with a slap on the wrist. Al Gore told the reporters, basically, "Look, if you report this, you'll never have access to the White House again." The only way we know about it, is the British press reported it.

  • Juice||

    He should have been busted for listening to explicit lyrics.

  • Pooneil||

    I'm pretty sure this just means legislators can't get arrested for trivial offences to assure legislators won't be detained as a way to affect voting on legislation. Legislators with immunity from misdemeanor arrest under these laws can be arrested after the session, if needed. Even if in practice they won't. The law didn't prevent the police from ticketing Mosley or releasing and charging him with a misdemeanor crime. Mosley got off because he cowed the cop.

    Let's just apply to law more broadly.

  • Qsl||

    Difficulty being that is essentially an admission that anyone can be harassed by law enforcement with little to no repercussions, and instead of fixing that, you are kludging together a fix for reasons. Even worse, that lays the groundwork for the legislature to badger the populace with a never ending string of laws to chastise political opponents that they will never have to answer to.

    How about stricter laws regarding police engagement with the populace? Would that work?

    As an aside, the legislature had better be working overtime keeping law enforcement happy. Any inkling of dissatisfaction may result in police indulging in their own qualified immunity.

  • SRoach||

    Unfortunately, fixing it would entail getting it by the president. Even if the legislature felt the heat, and worked tirelessly to do away with all abusable laws, they might find that they were constantly short of a majority as all those inclined toward such reforms kept finding themselves in jail for violating the very laws they were attempting to repeal.

    It's a catch-22.

  • Qsl||

    I am thinking more long term, in a libertopia Constitution 2.0, after the government has imploded; what could law enforcement look like and how would you address this type of abuse?

    And off the bat, you would want a myriad of legislators, nearly approaching direct democracy or demarchy. Arresting a 10 or 20 legislators is probably doable. Arresting hundreds, not nearly as much. Diffusion of power is always good.

    You'd also want performance reviews of officers in terms of what percentage of their arrests resulted in grand jury charges. Numerous arrests with nothing to show for it is a waste of public resources, and those officers should be let go for using poor judgement. Same with prosecutors.

    As I recall, in Romania, there were protests for months on end when the legislature attempted to essentially legalized abuse in duty. Thousands surrounding the capital every night until the law was changed. And I have to think to myself, what is so different in the national character there as opposed to here?

    They actually have experience with autocratic government while the US thinks it could never happen here.

  • SRoach||

    I don't think even a massive legislature, at less than 1:1 representation, would be immune to mass arrest.
    It would be quite doable to arrest hundreds of people who were scheduled to vote. It's been done. The mere threat of it has been used to sway elections, without having to arrest so many people and figure out what to do with them afterward.

    However, there is an idea. Make the legislature 1:1, and include all the privileges and immunities.

    The problem is, so long as there are vague laws, impossible laws, and generally ignored (but still on the books) laws, there is the potential for the executive branch to abuse those to cow a population that is inimical to it or shape the active electorate to favor it.
    Even in 1790, there were vague laws. Heck, our whole system of Common Law is vague law spackled on top of vague law. I believe that many of our vaguest laws were written by those first Congresses, back before lawyers came to dominate on Capitol Hill.

  • Rossami||

    State legislator. That means it's a state problem. The president would have nothing to do with it.

    You might, however, have a point about "getting it by" the governor. Be even that's not all that hard if the legislature really does feel some heat from their abuses.

  • SRoach||

    I did consider using a different word when I wrote this. I chose "President" for the guy who is head of the executive branch. Perhaps I should have said "Governor", as there are fifty of those, and only one President at any given time, but I chose to go with the title of the federal executive.

  • What's that smell?||

    Shorter version:
    Ruling Class: Do as I say, not as I do

  • Longtobefree||

    Actually, the law was applied impartially and correctly in this case.

    If you want to speed like a maniac, just get elected. Simple.
    The problem is not the legislator, it is the law. So quit whining and get it changed.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yes, get it changed by people who SAY that they are our allies, until 3 seconds after they take their oath of office, and then they become our enemies!

  • Hackmaschine Mutter||

    I suppose it is our fault. We keep voting for these liars, who keep screwing the voters over. So, it raises the eternal question: Is there a honest politician?

  • SQRLSY One||

    There used to be a few, here and there, before television and the internet. Now we elect people with good hair and sharp, ruthless tongues!

  • JesseAz||

    The only good politician is someone who doesn't want to be a politician.

  • Merl3noir||

    I've often wondered, how would you create a system where you nominate someone that does not want the job. The best I can think of is a jury type system, peoples names would be drawn in a lottery type system to run for office. The main problem I see is that while not wanting to be in politics is probably a desirable trait in a politician, they also do need to have some wisdom, experience , and intelligence, that not everyone may have. Of course odds are many politicians are lacking exactly that as well... it's just the system has gotten exceptionally good at keep those defects hidden from the majority of the public... well until Trump came along.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    So quit whining and get it changed.

    Yeah, legislators are going to pass a law taking away their own immunity. Sure.

  • Unemployed Armenian Tranny||

    "The problem is not the legislator, it is the law."

    Um....You really said that. Amazing.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Privileges that are given for reasons that are justifiable as a response to past abuses by other branches of government are eventually abused by schmucks. This is exacerbated by the fact that the type of personality attracted to government service tend to be schmucks. A Cincinnatus pops ups occassionally, but such are a distinct minority.

  • T. Lord||

    And let's not ever forget the indignation with which drunken, dipsomaniacal Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg met being arrested for being at least three sheets to the wind, blotto, besotted, bibacious, etc.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7y7oJ266qI

    But it really was an unfair arrest -- bear in mind that all others around her were protected from her alco-breath by the stalwart protection of her moving car.

    Rosemary, of course, is still well-employed (from her point of view) at the taxpayer trough.

  • SQRLSY One||

    In the old days, there were vague and nebulously defined laws on the boos, against treason "high crimes and misdemeanors", like not curtsying quite right to the Queen, etc. So lawmakers NEEDED immunity from political witch hunts, I can see that...

    Then we moved towards "rule of law" and away from vagueness, supposedly. The more firm the laws, and the more impartially enforced, the less that the lawmakers can say that they "need" special protection from political witch-hunts.

    So now we're adding more vague laws about "hate speech", about you hurting my baby feelings? This is giving the lawmakers more fuel for their bullshit fires about needing "special protection for special people"!

    More "rule of law" with real and firm definitions is needed, as well as impartial enforcement!

  • SQRLSY One||

    Ooooops! Meant laws on the books, not on the boos... Although a lot of laws DESERVE our boos, of course...

  • perlchpr||

    In the old days, there were vague and nebulously defined laws on the books[.]

    What's this "in the old days" stuff? 18 USC 1001 is a modern day version of that.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Well, yes, sad to say, there ARE a lot of those, for quite some time now. Example: Congress says you will make a "reasonable effort" to accommodate the handicapped in employment... And lets the regulators and courts define "REASONABLE"!

    Might as well just then pass ONE law: Everyone will make a "reasonable effort" to "be nice to others", aNd we will solve EVERYTHING!

  • Longtobefree||

    Until the bureaucrats publish 13,873 pages defining "reasonable effort", "being nice", and most importantly, who "others" are.
    And, in passing, fund their bureaucracies for another 500 years.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Amen! Yea verily, Longtobefree "gets it"!!!

  • Jerryskids||

    So long as we're going to tolerate government officials exempting themselves from the rules they inflict on the rest of us, we might just have to be happy when there's no body count.

    Historically, the body count starts getting pretty high when the rest of us stop tolerating the ruling class exempting themselves from the rules they inflict on the rest of us.

  • Longtobefree||

    And historically, the count of bodies tilts strongly toward us rather than them.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Once our robot over-lords take charge, we will all be little people. That will be better, right?

  • Longtobefree||

    Except that they will not allow any car to go over 35 miles an hour, the limit of their programming.

  • Rich||

    "Members of the legislature shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace"

    "'Breach of the peace' it is, then."

    *** pounds gavel ***

  • Kristian H.||

    What's unfortunate here is that lawmakers historically granted themselves such immunity to protect against politically motivated arrests by the king, or governor, or whoever might try to lock lawmakers away to affect the outcome of a vote.

    I understand the concern. However, I also have seen the IRS and FBI weaponized. The CIA/NSA snooping on Senator's and their staff. If the executive can start arresting the legislature during session, there is a problem.

    Even deferring the charge until after the session could have a chilling impact.

    Yet more evidence that government has too much power and influence over us, that this is even a concern.

    Finally, as Instapundit has noted recently, we seem to be in effect if not words creating a ruling nobility. Both with elected and appointed government officials, and their armed enforcers (e.g., police officers getting benefits even after retired that normal citizens don't get).

  • JesseAz||

    The courts have also been weaponized. See the prosecution of Perry by a liberal D.A. The attacks against trump and Flynn.

  • John C. Randolph||

    How the fuck is that legal, given the equal protection clause of the constitution?

    -jcr

  • Kristian H.||

    Inherent conflict between co-equal yet distinct aspects of the government. Law Enforcement is generally contained in the Executive, which at times, may have less than upright motives to hinder actions by the legislature, which often have time constraints. 'Wouldn't it be great if these 2 reps weren't there for the budget vote...' or, confirmation vote, or, I don't know, impeachment vote?

    Sure, the schmucks are taking a privilege to an extreme, but there are time it really is needed.

  • D-Pizzle||

    "Law Enforcement is generally contained in the Executive, which at times, may have less than upright motives to hinder actions by the legislature, which often have time constraints. 'Wouldn't it be great if these 2 reps weren't there for the budget vote...' or, confirmation vote, or, I don't know, impeachment vote?"

    Do you have a cite to any case or allegation where this actually happened?"

  • Kristian H.||

    Has it happened here (the USA)? No, because the US Constitution is written to prevent it a federal level (limited but still quite broad), and a few (most? all?) states have similar provisions, with varying degrees of immunity. Most Westminster based constitutions have also similar clauses.

    Has it been attempted in less liberty supporting times and countries? Yes, yes it has. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Members

  • Longtobefree||

    It is legal because that is what the law says.

  • SRoach||

    I would prefer it were not so, but so long as we have legislatures, we need those legislatures to be safe from politically motivated arrest. The cost is idiots and jerks who abuse that. This is the same as free speech: In order to have free speech, it has to be free to the abusers, and not just the reasonable.

    I do not condone exempting cops. Those guys should be stripped of their badges and thrown into the general population...of Detroit.

    Something which is hinted here, but which I consider especially unwise, is the use of unwritten traditions to shield the lawmakers and police from the law. If the laws do apply evenly to the lawmakers, but are generally unenforced, it is only a matter of time until some governor or federal prosecutor uses that to "clean up" a legislature, by selectively arresting anyone who has the wrong (D) or (R), (or (L), for that matter), behind their name. An unwritten tradition thus permits the worst of the abuses, while providing none of the benefits to the public: Namely the benefit of having a legislature that is able to act independently of whoever holds arresting authority.

    What we need are more impeachments. That's what they're their for.

  • SRoach||

    Now, on one final note. Back when the Bush Girls were doing their underage drinking, the SS made a salient point: Their job was to protect these girls, and they would be incapable of doing this their primary duty if they enforced the law on these girls. Namely, to avoid the girls deciding to shake their protection detail, the protection detail had to look the other way and be reliably known to do so.
    That shouldn't prevent some other cop from enforcing the law on these girls, although it probably did.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Unless the girls were involved in treason, counterfeiting, smuggling, piracy on the high seas or one of the other very few offenses defined in the Constitution, the SS should have no law enforcement jurisdiction.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Unless the girls were involved in treason, counterfeiting, smuggling, piracy on the high seas or one of the other very few offenses defined in the Constitution, the SS should have no law enforcement jurisdiction.

  • SRoach||

    I won't argue with this. It would be a better world all around if the Secret Service weren't in it, nor the FBI, the TSA, the DEA, the BATFE, etc. I'd allow that the Marshals could be kept, and kept small, though I know there are those here who would object even to that.

    That said, had those girls been guarded by ATF agents, it Would have been their job, if not their constitutional duty, to arrest them for drinking, (along with whoever provided the alcohol.) As it was, it WAS their job, if not followed to the letter because they had higher priorities to maintain the girls trust and cooperation, to arrest anyone who sold them a knockoff designer handbag, and then confiscate the handbag.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Under fire from the public and the press, Rep. Mosley apologized both for speeding and for his "jokes about frequently driving over 100 miles per hour."

    Is that apology recorded anywhere? The initial Reason article linked to a facebook post which was removed.

  • Eddy||

    I don't know about AZ, but Congresscritters' privilege from arrest applies only when they're going to or returning from Congress. And in AZ and Congress, there's exceptions for treason, felony and breach of the peace.

    (Question for legal eagles: Does drunk driving and dangerous driving breach the peace?)

    The point (at least as far as Congress is concerned) is that if they're on the way to cast a vote, they can be cited for a misdemeanor but not arrested (and miss the vote), but they still have to show up in court and face punishment if convicted.

    So they can still be legally harassed like normies, but for misdemeanors their need to perform their legislative functions overcomes the power to arrest them.

    I doubt that a good-faith implementation of these protections can account for all the favors legislators get from law enforcement.

  • Stephen54321||

    But in Arizona, immunity is actually official. Members of the legislature shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace, and they shall not be subject to any civil process during the session of the legislature, nor for fifteen days next before the commencement of each session," according to Arizona law.

    Um, a version of that particular provision appears (AFAIK) in the constitution of EVERY US state. It also appears in the US Constitution (art. 1, sec. 6) in reference to members of Congress.

    In other words, it ain't JUST Arizona where immunity for legislators "is actually official".

  • BrianB||

    Laws and taxes are for the peons.

  • John40||

    Here is another example of are Laws are for Little People. Hillary Clinton mishandled thousands of government emails. Many of these were top secret and wound up on computers of those not authorized. The Justice Department declined to prosecute her. Kristian Saucier is an U.S. Navy sailor who photographed interior areas of his nuclear submarine. The photos were not shared with anyone. Saucier was convicted of this crime and spent one year in prison. He paid a price for his misdeed. Hillary Clinton needs to answer for her blatant email crime. She must be brought to trial and when convicted sent to prison.

  • StackOfCoins||

    Ted Kennedy drove a car off a bridge, most likely driving drunk, and a woman died. There's good reason to believe that woman was alive for some time while Ted Kennedy was considering whether to report the incident or not. He took a bath, had a nice sleep and finally reported the incident after the car and body was discovered.

    For the crime of not reporting an accident, leaving the scene of an accident, and manslaughter, Ted Kennedy received a two-month suspended sentence and was re-elected to the Senate.

  • FlyerJack||

    Dying words as Trump kills us all: "...but her emails...!"

  • majil||

    As being a legislator in AZ pays squat , the per diem sucks,and we are a wide open space State these elected officials have been exempt from Speed limits for a long time. ( but not reckless driving i.e excessive speed in traffic ) . This allowed elected people to go home more often while in session .
    The law was expanded quietly due to the "Arpaio Factor" . He loved arresting political enemies for made up crimes and was so popular with "The mob "that very few would buck him . So they come up with this nonsense to combat Arpaio's nonsense .

  • Reverend Draco||

    "If the folks making the law and presiding over its application are cutting each other slack, it's no surprise that those enforcing it expect to enjoy similar leeway."

    Not only that, but the average citizen who observes these things can, and in many cases will, decide that Equal Protection means that they also expect similar leeway. And some of them will enforce it.

  • LifeStrategies||

    If we empower and encourage cities to carry police officer malpractice and wrongful imprisonment insurance - one of the measures in the proposed Stop School Shootings Law - then such egregious behavior would largely vanish.

    see www.discouragecriminals.net/mo.....-insurance

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