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Minnesota legislators' arrest immunity up for debate

The Constitution of the State of Minnesota allows for state lawmakers not to be arrested during the legislative session if they are accused of certain crimes, including DWI and other non-felony offenses. A bill has been introduced that could strip legislators of that immunity in the future.

The Minnesota Secretary of State's office has issued immunity cards for state legislators for 40 years. The cards contain language from the state constitution that makes legislators privileged from arrest for most non-felony offenses during legislative sessions or while lawmakers are commuting to and from the sessions. The cards and the constitution also state that legislators will not be privileged from arrest for "treason, felony and breach of the peace."

In the most recent legislative session, the state Senate considered a bill that would eliminate this particular immunity for lawmakers, and there was debate about whether a new law was actually needed to make legislators subject to DWI charges going forward. The bill stalled over the disagreement.

In the meantime, the office of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie made a decision to discontinue issuing the immunity cards. According to Ritchie, a review of the law indicates that there is no requirement for the cards to be issued. It was also noted that not printing and distributing the cards does not remove the protection the law affords senators and representatives.

Secretary of State Ritchie's decision came after students from Concordia University pointed out that there was no requirement to issue the cards. The student group has advocated for the bill to remove immunity for legislators.

Despite what happens with legislator immunity, the vast majority of residents in Hennepin and Ramsey counties have no such protection. When faced with a drunk driving charge, a strong defense strategy is the best way to mitigate negative consequences and protect your freedom and future.

Source: City Pages, "Mark Ritchie pulls plug on legislators' "get out of jail" cards [UPDATE]," Aaron Rupar, May 22, 2014

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