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Kentucky politician tries to escape DUI charges by citing state constitution
Maybe it’s time for an amendment.
Sen. Brandon Smith, the majority whip in the Kentucky State Senate, recently argued that a DUI charge filed against him should be dropped. The reason? An obscure provision in the Kentucky Constitution that says lawmakers cannot be arrested during the legislative session.
Smith was arrested in early January after police saw him drive 65 mph in a 45-mph zone. He blew a .088 during a field sobriety test, just over the legal limit of .08. He refused to take official blood-alcohol test after his arrest.
Now, Smith’s attorneys have filed a motion arguing that their client is exempt from any penalties for driving under the influence because the arrest happened to occur on the first night of the 2015 legislative session. Attorney Bill Johnson cites section 43 of the Kentucky constitution, which says that
…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.
It’s not clear why state lawmakers felt it was necessary to add this provision back in 1891, but Johnson argues that it applies to his client, who was reportedly “returning from” the legislature when he was arrested. In Kentucky, a first time DUI is not a felony offense.
Johnson told the Associated Press that the law was designed to “keep legislators from being bothered by people who would arrest them during sessions.”
At Smith’s next court hearing, scheduled for Feb. 12, a judge will likely decided whether or not to accept this motion. Regardless, many of Smith’s constituents and members of the general public don’t accept this defense strategy.
“He should be held accountable, no matter what job he does,” said Rosalind McDonald, a victim service specialist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Kentucky.
Many on Twitter pointed out the hypocrisy of Smith’s attorneys’ motion.
If Smith’s name sounds familiar to you, it may be because this is the second time in a year he’s made national headlines. Back in July, the Republican politician became the subject of widespread ridicule for suggesting during an environmental hearing that climate change wasn’t real because temperatures on Earth and Mars were “exactly” the same.
Tim Sampson is a reporter who focused on the technology, business, and politics beats. He's also an established comedy writer, with work on Comedy Central and in The Onion and ClickHole.