Virginia Constitution protects state lawmakers from arrest, proposed resolution could change that

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A recent DUI stop involving a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates is drawing attention to a little-known law some are calling outdated and immoral.

Del. Chris Hurst (D-12) was stopped for a suspected DUI by Christiansburg Police early Sunday morning after an officer spotted him speeding and swerving across traffic lanes.

Hurst walked away with a warning, despite being slightly above the legal limit.

The officer cited several reasons why Hurst was not arrested on Sunday night. Even if he was, the department said a provision of Virginia’s Constitution, which gives lawmakers immunity from arrest during the General Assembly, would’ve made it “highly unlikely” that Hurst could’ve been prosecuted in court.

Internal investigation underway after Virginia legislator let off with warning during DUI stop

Hurst said he never brought up the law during the stop. The department said the officer was aware of the provision that protects lawmakers from arrests “unless they have committed treason, a felony or a breach of the peace.”

Sen. Tim Kaine on Del. Chris Hurst traffic stop: “I did not remember the law that way”

“I think the average citizen was as surprised as I was to find out we had immunity,” said Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-17).

Reeves, a deputy sheriff in Culpeper, is proposing a resolution to amend the provision. He said it dates back to the 1700’s.

“I guess they had a problem way back when of sheriffs stopping members to keep them from going to vote on bills,” he said. “If you see a deficiency and you fail to correct it, you set a new standard and I don’t want that to be the standard and the legacy that we’re going to leave behind.”

Reeves said his resolution would allow judges and law enforcement officers to prosecute lawmakers for crimes during session. He said citizen warrants still wouldn’t be allowed for fear the tool could be abused.

Changing the Virginia Constitution is a lengthy process. Reeves said his resolution will need to pass the General Assembly twice with an intervening election. The change will also have to win voter approval in a referendum.

Del. Hurst refused to do an on-camera interview with 8News on Friday.

In a statement earlier this week, Hurst said, in part, “I don’t believe that I should be immune from prosecution when warranted. I never avoid responsibility and accept the consequences of my actions. I am not above the law.”

The Christiansburg Police Department is also in the process of conducting an internal review. They released the following statement on Thursday:

The Christiansburg Police Department shares the community’s concerns regarding the Jan. 26 traffic stop involving Chris Hurst and has launched an internal investigation to review if the actions taken during the encounter violated agency policy. Internal investigations must be complete within 30 days, and we will provide additional information once the investigation is complete. The department is also conducting a review of the policies governing DUI enforcement to ensure those policies promote public safety and adequate enforcement action when appropriate and legally permissible under the provisions of the Code of Virginia and the Constitution of the Commonwealth. Our goal and mission at the Christiansburg Police Department remains to provide the best possible law enforcement service to the community.


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