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An Arizona lawmaker who was pulled over for speeding told a sheriff’s deputy that he sometimes drives as fast as 140 mph, according to body camera footage of the incident.
Rep. Paul Mosley, a Republican from Lake Havasu City, told the deputy that “legislative immunity” prevented him from getting a ticket for speeding, according to a story and video about the incident published by ParkerLive, a news website.
On March 27, Mosley was pulled over for reportedly driving up to 97 mph in a 55 mph zone in La Paz county, ParkerLive reported.
In the video of the traffic stop, the deputy warned Mosley to watch his speed out of safety. Mosley told the officer he was going over 120 mph earlier and at times drives up to 140 mph.
The deputy responded, “Really?” Mosley, with a smile, then said, “Yeah, this thing goes 140. That’s what I like about it.”
According to Arizona law, driving over 85 mph on state highways and freeways constitutes criminal speeding, a Class 3 misdemeanor that commonly ends in fines.
Mosley did not receive a ticket during the recorded stop.
Mosley told the deputy that he was trying to get home quickly to see his family.
“I don’t break the law because I can,” he said, according to the video.
The deputy then ended the conversation.
“I’m not going to lecture you,” the officer said. “Have a good day.”
Speaker: Incident was disturbing
The Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 9,000 law-enforcement officers, withdrew its endorsement of Mosley Thursday.
“Rep. Mosley’s recklessness, his demeanor and his utter disregard for the safety of the public represent the exact opposite of what the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police looks for in an elected official,” said the group’s president, John Ortolano.
“Potentially lethal speeding isn’t a joke. We will not stand with those who think it’s acceptable or funny to risk the lives of others while behind the wheel of a lethal weapon.”
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said in a statement that he was “disturbed” to see Mosley’s actions in the video.
“Nothing short of an emergency justifies that kind of speeding, and assertions of immunity in that situation seem outside the intent of the constitutional provision regarding legislative immunity,” said Mesnard, R-Chandler.
Rep. Randall Friese, a Democrat from Tucson and the assistant minority leader, said he doesn’t believe legislative immunity extends to Mosley’s speeding. Even if someone were to interpret the immunity as such, Friese said, legislators should still follow the law.
“We are not above the law. … Mr. Mosley appears to think that we are,” he said.
Mosley: ‘Jokes’ about speeding not OK
Mosley posted an apology on Facebook later Thursday, saying he should not have been driving so fast and that his “jokes” about driving more than 100 mph weren’t appropriate.
“My desire to get home to see my family does not justify how fast I was speeding nor my reference to legislative immunity when being pulled over,” Mosley wrote. “Legislative immunity is a serious responsibility and should not be taken lightly or abused.”
“In addition, my jokes about frequently driving over 100 miles per hour during my 3-hour commute to and from the capitol were entirely inappropriate and showed extremely bad judgement on my part, for which I am truly sorry.”
The La Paz County Sheriff’s Department posted on Facebook that their deputy acted appropriately during the traffic stop.
What is legislative immunity?
The Arizona Constitution provides legislative immunity, saying lawmakers are “privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace.”
But the immunity is not indefinite — the constitutional provision says only that lawmakers cannot be subject to civil proceedings while the Legislature is in session, or for 15 days before the beginning of a legislative session.
The session ended on May 4.
The immunity is intended to apply to legislative acts and prevent the disruption of legislative duties while lawmakers are in session.
Many other states and the federal government allow some type of legislative immunity.
The immunity means lawmakers are protected from arrest for speech and debate that occurs in the course of doing their jobs, an Arizona legislative manual says.
“This immunity generally protects legislators from being sued, arrested or ordered to testify or produce documents about legislative acts, subject to certain court-created exceptions,” according to the manual created by the bipartisan Arizona Legislative Council.
Guidance from House rules attorneys to lawmakers on legislative immunity specifically says speeding tickets do not fall under the provision. The guidance says there’s no immunity for crimes, and that civil lawsuits may be postponed until after session.
“Claims of immunity are very rare and may not be favored by the courts or the public. A legislator should take care not to assume that this immunity will be honored,” the guidance says.
‘Not a get-out-of-jail-free card’
Joe Kanefield, a constitutional lawyer at Ballard Spahr in Phoenix, said he reads legislative immunity very narrowly. The immunity doesn’t excuse lawmakers from civil processes, just delays them, he said. And the immunity doesn’t apply to serious crimes.
“Responsible legislators should be aware of the scope of that protection and be cautious about invoking it when responding to law enforcement officials,” Kanefield said.
“It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card in any respect.”
Kory Langhofer, an attorney with Statecraft Law, said the provision doesn’t immunize lawmakers when the Legislature is out of session or when they’re arrested in connection with a crime.
The purpose is to make sure lawmakers aren’t taken away from their work for civil matters than can wait until after session, Langhofer said.
“It’s pretty narrow, narrower than most legislators would want it to be,” he said.
Other lawmakers who claimed immunity
Mosley isn’t the only Arizona lawmaker to claim legislative immunity.
In 1988, former Gov. Jan Brewer, then a state senator, was not arrested or charged following a fender bender on Interstate 17 after officers told her she was prevented from arrest because of legislative immunity.
She rear-ended a minivan and told officers she had had two scotches before driving. Brewer failed a series of field sobriety tests. She said in 2010, when the incident was publicly revealed, that she didn’t claim the privilege herself or mention she was a senator.
In 2011, police said Scott Bundgaard, a former Republican lawmaker, claimed legislative immunity after a quarrel with his former girlfriend on the side of State Route 51. Bundgaard resigned from the Arizona Senate amid an ethics probe into the incident.
In 2012, former Democratic lawmaker Daniel Patterson faced domestic-violence charges, but claimed prosecutors violated legislative immunity by charging him during the legislative session. Patterson resigned before lawmakers were expected to vote on his removal from office.
Then-Sen. Steve Gallardo, a Democrat who know is a Maricopa County Supervisor, proposed a measure that would ask voters to repeal legislative immunity in 2012. It did not pass.
Mosley previously made headlines after saying he would repeal the Arizona law that requires children to go to school.
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