The Curious Case Of The Drunk-Driving Legislator

I know, I haven’t written much about the North Dakota Legislature this year. Too many other things on my mind. But I followed it, and read about it daily, and shook my head in amazement over the stupid things the Republican majority did. I won’t tick them off here—you know what I am talking about.

But something caught my attention and jarred old memories near the end of the session, and I’ve been wondering about it, so I thought I’d put something here and see if anyone can help me work through this puzzle.

It’s the story, of which I was reminded in the paper this week, of Minot Representative Scott Louser, the Assistant Republican House Majority Leader, getting picked up near the end of the session for drunk driving. The latest story says he has pleaded not guilty, in spite of a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit, and will stand trial later this year.

Here’s the puzzle: Doesn’t he know about Article IV, Section 15, of the North Dakota Constitution, which says:

Section 15. Members of the legislative assembly are immune from arrest during their attendance at the sessions, and in going to or returning from the sessions, except in cases of felony . . .

In other words, he can drive drunk but can’t be arrested for it.

Louser is not the first Legislator to get a DUI while in attendance at the North Dakota Legislative Session. I can recall two, back in the 1970s: Minot Senator Morrie Anderson and Jamestown Senator Bob Melland. Melland’s case sticks with me a little more clearly—I think I remember he was out drinking on the Strip in Mandan and got picked up heading back to his hotel.

I don’t remember the outcome, but I know he claimed Legislative immunity from arrest, and was never charged. Anderson’s case is a little more murky. I know I have a few readers who are older than me (not many, though) who might remember the outcome of these cases. If you do, let me know.

So the question is, why hasn’t Louser invoked his constitutional right to immunity from arrest? He’s got a pretty good lawyer. I’m curious why he wants to let it play out, with all the attendant publicity, and danger of big fines, jail time, and giant insurance premium increases, when he could just shuck it, take a bad PR hit now, and have it over with. And keep his driver’s license.  One of his constituents told me this week “It’s not going to affect his ability get re-elected up here.”

I remember back in the 70s, I think it was the 1977 session, when Melland claimed immunity. It was all over the front page of The Bismarck Tribune. For one day. I remember thinking at the time it was a pretty ballsy thing to do. But then, those were back in the days when Legislators actually had balls. As opposed to the weenies we elect these days.

One thought on “The Curious Case Of The Drunk-Driving Legislator

  1. As someone who experienced the consequences of getting a DUI (almost 9 years ago now, the time flies), I think I can understand his choice to not invoke immunity.
    By far the worst consequences of a DUI are feeling like a terrible/stupid person and the judgement and/or sympathy that you receive from other people. This does not change if you invoke immunity and I feel would in fact be worsened.
    The monetary implications for a person not living paycheck to paycheck are relatively inconsequential. Fines are $500, lawyer maybe a couple thousand, and insurance…I don’t remember exactly but it wasn’t that much, maybe a few hundred more per year for a couple years? If you have to take a taxi to work every day for 30 days that could add up in the $500 range. But all told quite likely you are going to be under $5,000 total cost, with the majority riding on your lawyer choices.
    The criminal record consequences (misdemeanor) are also likely inconsequential in his case, presumably mid-to-late stage career.

    Like

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