The controversy surrounding the Minnesota “Get Out of Jail Free Cards” has continued for the past few weeks with the state attorney general and lawmakers stepping into the fray. The issue revolves around a report from a group of college students, which revealed a little-discussed provision of the Minnesota Constitution that appears to provide immunity to lawmakers from arrest, including possibly from DWIs.
The provision at issue appears in Article 4, Section 10 of the state constitution and says that legislators “shall be privileged from arrest” during the time the legislature is in session for all crimes except “treason, felony and breach of the peace.” Legislators are given a laminated card with this language on it, something many have since dubbed their “Get Out of Jail Free Card.”
Students at Concordia University say that the measure, as written, could be used to allow legislators to evade arrest for drunk driving, a prospect that has angered many given how determined legislators are to increase penalties for those convicted of Minnesota DWIs. However, others say there is not enough evidence to show that the cards have ever been used to evade drunk driving charges and that the old constitutional provision is actually outdated and essentially useless.
Recently, Minnesota AG Lori Swanson issued a statement explaining that she did not believe the law would allow lawmakers to escape arrest for drunk driving or any other modern crimes. Swanson issued her opinion after receiving a formal request from Senator Ron Latz, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Swanson said that the law would not justify letting a legislator out of a drunk driving arrest, regardless of whether the legislature was currently in session or not. Swanson says that she thinks public education would be a good step for lawmakers rather than a special law erasing the provision. Swanson says the legislature should give a more complete explanation of the matter to the public and law enforcement officers, clarifying that there is no actual immunity from arrest for lawmakers, including for DWIs.
Another recommendation from State Senator Latz is to throw out the cards given to lawmakers, something that helps contribute to the uncertainty surrounding the issue. Also, Latz has said that all incoming and veteran lawmakers should be told clearly that there is no immunity from arrest for criminal activity. Making sure that lawmakers and law enforcement authorities are on the same page should reduce confusion regarding the issue and hopefully assure the public that the people writing the laws are held to the same standard as everyone else.
Source: “Attorney General Swanson: Legislators’ immunity won’t stop DWIs,” by Abby Simons, published at StarTribune.com.