OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After an Oklahoma lawmaker was censured following his arrest in Oklahoma City, we’re getting a closer look at what some are calling ‘legislative immunity.’
According to officials, Rep. Dean Davis was arrested in Bricktown early Thursday morning for allegedly being drunk in public.
During the arrest, Rep. Davis told officers that he could not be detained because he was a member of the Legislature, and they were in the middle of session.
“So, at this point right now, the way I’m reading it, I’m not arresting you at the state Legislature,” the officer said.
“You can’t detain me,” Rep. Davis said.
“I can and I am right now,” the officer responded.
This is the second time an Oklahoma lawmaker has claimed ‘legislative immunity’ in the face of an arrest.
Vice Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, was arrested in October 2022 for DUI.
Martinez also attempted to evade arrest by citing the legislative session arrest exemption.
“As far as I know, the regular session ended in May,” the officer said.
“Yes, sir,” Rep. Martinez said.
“But you’re saying, right now, you’re in some kind of special session?” the officer asked.
“We’ve been in special session the whole time, sir. It never ends,” Rep. Martinez said.
After being sworn in, each lawmaker is given a legislative identification card, which includes Article 5, Section 22 of the Oklahoma’s Constitution.
“Senators and representatives shall, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during the session of the Legislature, and in going to and returning from the same, and, for any speech or debate in either House, shall not be questioned in any other place,” it states.
Experts say this provision is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
Instead, most experts interpret the original language to allow lawmakers to do their work freely and not be arrested while on their way to vote for specific legislation.
It was written to prevent political retaliation.
However, the law does not allow lawmakers to avoid arrest or make them untouchable during the legislative session, which runs from February to May.
“I think what the word ‘session’ means is that literally when the legislators are going to and from or in a session on the floor of the House or in the Senate in a committee meeting, literally on their way to perform their official duty for the people of Oklahoma,” said Bob Burke, constitutional law expert and author.