Georgia: Lawmaker to appeal denial of immunity in DUI case
By NANCY BADERTSCHERThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/28/05State Rep. David Graves
failed Tuesday to convince a Cobb County judge that he should be immune from prosecution for DUI because he's a lawmaker. Now he plans to take his argument to the Georgia Supreme Court
Graves (R-Macon) has two
pending DUI cases in Cobb, but is trying to avoid prosecution on one of them by relying on a centuries-old and rarely used provision of the state Constitution.
That provision holds that state lawmakers cannot be arrested during sessions of the General Assembly or its committees or while lawmakers are traveling to either one. Exceptions are made for "treason, felony, or breach of the peace."
Cobb State Court Judge Irma Glover on Tuesday rejected Graves' argument that he should have been granted immunity from arrest because lawmakers were in session and he was leaving a dinner meeting with other legislators when he was stopped Feb. 15 at a police roadblock in Vinings. He was arrested after refusing a sobriety test, authorities said.
Glover ruled that there was no evidence that the dinner, where Graves admitted to drinking two to four glasses of wine, was either a committee meeting or part of any legislative session."The fact that several legislators attended and [Graves] was wearing his legislative pin does not sanction the dinner," she said
William C. "Bubba
" Head, who is representing Graves, immediately filed an appeal to have Glover's ruling reviewed by the state Supreme Court. The process could take months.
"Because of the unique nature of this case, I think this is the only sensible way to go," Head told reporters after the hearing. "This is brand new law. And as far as I can tell, there's no case even close to this."
Georgia's legislative immunity provision has been on the books since 1789. Similar laws — including one in the U.S. Constitution for Congress — date to colonial times, when lawmakers feared being arrested by political rivals.
Assistant State Court Solicitor Gary Jones said the appeal delays Graves' trial, which had been set to start Tuesday.
LaTresse Snead, the state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, attended the hearing. She said she was disappointed to see "such a high-profile figure charged with drunk driving.
"Drunk driving is not a mistake or an accident," Snead said. "People have a choice."
Graves, who is chairman of the House committee that oversees regulation of the liquor industry, was in the courthouse, but generally steered clear of the courtroom, reporters and television cameras. He made one brief appearance to tell Glover he willingly waived his right to be present for the discussion of his case.
In March 2004, Graves, a 47-year-old pharmacist, was arrested after authorities said he ran a red light in Cobb County. He consented to a blood-alcohol test and registered a .13, well above the .08 legal limit, records show.
In the latest case, Glover said Cobb police had sufficient evidence to arrest Graves, including a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech and his admission that he had had several drinks.
If Graves is convicted of one or both drunk driving charges, he faces fines, possible jail time, loss of his driver's license and the possible loss of his committee chairmanship.