Denver Police said the Colorado constitution prevented them from arresting State Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Grand Junction, to get a blood alcohol test. Lawmakers, though, said police are misinterpreting the provision.
Lt. Matt Murray, a spokesman for Denver police, said an officer pulled over Bradford in the area of 10th Avenue and Downing Street at about 10 p.m. Wednesday. Murray said she had made an illegal turn and was driving carelessly.
The officer said he smelled alcohol on her breath and Bradford said she had been drinking, Murray said.
She was given a field sobriety test, and there were enough indicators that the officer on the scene wanted to take her into custody for a blood test, said Murray. But under the constitution, we couldnt detain her.
Instead, the officer cited Bradford for careless driving and making an illegal turn, Murray said. Her car was parked and she took a cab to her Denver residence.
However, 7NEWS spoke with legal experts, as well as Democrat and Republican lawmakers, who said the law was misapplied.
Its poppycock that shes immune from arrest for driving while drunk, said Professor Tom Russell with the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. The Denver Police are giving legislators a break that they dont deserve under the constitution. Rep. Bradford may make the law, but shes not above the law.
In the current situation, Denver police may have applied the privilege more broadly than the constitution does, said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.
Gardner said the provision is intended to prevent the governor or judicial branch from interfering with lawmakers as they work.
Its a very specific protection, said Gardner. Its to keep the governor from arresting a lawmaker to keep him from passing a law.
Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder said the law has a legitimate purpose and doesnt need to be changed.
I think the more sensible thing to do would be sit down with the Denver Police Department and their city attorney and talk with them about how theyre applying the law and come to some kind of common understanding as to what it means, said Levy.
The Colorado Constitution says:
The members of the general assembly shall, in all cases except treason or felony, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sessions of their respective houses, or any committees thereof, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either house, or any committees thereof, they shall not be questioned in any other place.
The law was effective the day Colorado became a state on Aug. 1, 1876 and was amended only once -- in 1975.
The Denver Police Department Operations Manual says:205.07 Violations by Colorado Legislators (1) Pursuant to Article 5, Section 16 of the Colorado Constitution, no member of the Colorado General Assembly may be arrested while in route to or from legislative sessions, except for treason or felony violations. (2) Traffic citations may be issued, however the legislator shall not be detained for an undue amount of time. (3) Should an officer have reason to believe a legislator is driving under the influence AND there is an accident with serious injuries or a fatality involved, the legislator will be arrested and processed for the suspected felony; DUI violation. (4) In the absence of felony violations, should an officer have reason to believe a legislator is driving under the influence, the officer may cite for a violation which caused an accident or was the reason for a traffic stop. For the safety and welfare of the public and the legislator, the officer will arrange for other transportation for the legislator and his/her vehicle will be parked and locked.
Based on Denver police policy, lawmakers are not allowed to be detained for an undue amount of time. Being taken to a substation for a breathalyzer or to a hospital for a blood draw to determine blood alcohol content level, could be determined detainment and/or arrest.
If she had been drinking, it is conceivable that she would have been in Detox all night and missed the session in the morning, said Murray. Because she wouldnt be released until she blew a zero.
Joseph Sandoval, a Metro State Criminology professor, said it is clear the constitution does not provide immunity to lawmakers who drive under the influence, and neither should police policy.
You cant fault the officer for following the policy, said Sandoval. On the other hand, perhaps the police policy needs to be revisited and needs to be reworked.
Bradford released a statement Friday night that said, "I look forward to continuing my work on behalf of the people of my district and Colorado. I understand the speakers decision, and I look forward to having the facts brought to light."
She returned an e-mail sent by 7NEWS Saturday stating that she would not be giving interviews until next week.
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