Legislative Immunity May Have Shielded Lawmaker Who Blew Over .08 On DUI Stop

Holly Matkin

Virginia State Delegate Chris Hurst's blood-alcohol content level was above the legal limit, preliminary testing showed.

Christiansburg, VA – A Virginia legislator suspected of drunk driving was let off with a warning despite having a blood-alcohol level that tested above the legal limit.

At approximately 2 a.m. on Sunday, a Christiansburg Police Lieutenant Stephen Swecker spotted a vehicle speeding and swerving over the fog line multiple times while driving along the U.S. 460 Bypass, WDBJ reported.

Lt. Swecker stopped the vehicle and identified the driver as Virginia State Delegate Chris Hurst.

Hurst’s eyes were red and an odor associated with an alcoholic beverage was emanating from the vehicle, police said.

The 32-year-old Democratic legislator was cooperative and submitted to field sobriety tests, to include a preliminary breath test used to help determine whether he was driving under the influence of alcohol, WDBJ reported.

The test, an investigative tool that is not admissible in court in Virginia, registered a blood-alcohol content reading of .085, which is above the legal limit of .08, police said.

Lt. Swecker ultimately determined that Hurst’s blood-alcohol level would likely have fallen below the legal limit in the time it would have taken to transport him to the magistrate’s office to submit to testing that would be admissible in court, WDBJ reported.

Hurst’s passenger tested below the legal limit, so the delegate was let off with a warning and allowed to leave the scene.

Lt. Swecker later notified his division commander about the stop, and the two officers briefly discussed the possibility that Hurst may be immune from prosecution while the General Assembly is in session.

The Christiansburg Police Department (CPD) reiterated the issue of immunity in a statement to WSLS.

“According to Section IV, Article 9 of the Constitution of Virginia, unless they have committed treason, a felony or a breach of peace, legislators are immune from arrest while the General Assembly is in session,” the department said.

Hurst did not mention his role as a delegate during the stop, but Lt. Swecker was aware of the potential immunity law, according to the CPD.

“The officer, Lt. Stephen Swecker, is highly experienced in DUI detection and enforcement. He has been recognized and awarded by Mothers Against Drunk Driving on at least four occasions for his performance in this area,” the statement read. “The officer weighed all of the factors and made a judgement call, as is done each and every time an officer decides whether or not to make an arrest.”

According to legal and political experts, Virginia’s immunity law was established hundreds of years ago in order to prevent lawmakers from being intimidated or targeted by members of another political party or by government officials, WSLS reported.

Hurst addressed the law in a statement he issued on Wednesday.

The delegate said that he made a “grave mistake” by consuming alcohol at a party and then driving, but noted that he didn’t think he was drunk when he got behind the wheel.

“At the time I never believed that my competence to drive was compromised,” Hurst wrote.

But after being pulled over and submitting to a series of field sobriety tests, he realized that he shouldn’t have been in control of a vehicle, he said.

“My blood alcohol content was shown to be .085%. That is over the legal limit and I should not have been drinking and driving,” Hurst continued. “It has been brought up that sitting members of the General Assembly cannot be charged with crimes while they are in session. While true, I don’t agree that I should be immune from prosecution when warranted.”

Hurst said he displayed “poor judgement” and acknowledged that his actions could have cost someone their life.

“I never avoid responsibility and accept the consequences of my actions. I am not above the law,” he said. “This experience has humbled me in a profound way… To those I have let down, I am deeply sorry. I will spend the remainder of my time in office working diligently to advocate for our community and regain any trust that I have lost.”

Comments (26)
No. 1-14
IseeWhereThisIsGoing
IseeWhereThisIsGoing

damn...... I never knew VA politicians couldn't be charged with a non-felony while the general assembly was in session.... so as long as you are a lawmakers, you can speed, drive recklessly, drive under the influence, steal from people, and any of hundreds of other violations and non-felony crimes, and as long as you don't breach the peace, or commit treason, you are immune from all consequences of your actions...

Burgers Allday
Burgers Allday

No comment on the main issues of the story, but . . .

Kind of a side issue: I was the law was clearer as to whether a driver can opt for a "bench test" instead of submitting to a roadside test.

Hi_estCommieDenom
Hi_estCommieDenom

He's against the 2nd Amendment... however, he gets points for not jumping out of the vehicle, saying who he is, and then lying about police brutality - like so many other of his colleagues

Excalibr4
Excalibr4

I'm just curious how this made the news. The cop decided to give him a break, because the guy was so close to legal sobriety. I don't see a big deal, especially since the the guy was compliant and not trying to bully the cop. However, I don't see the lawmaker or the cop deciding to go to the media on it. If the story is an attempt to impugn the integrity of the lawmaker, I don't like it, even though I'm conservative. As a matter of fact the immunity law, which wasn't a factor in the officer's decision to give him a warning was established to prevent stories like this from being used in exactly this manner, right or wrong.

NTPD935Ret
NTPD935Ret

Of course they can steal when in office! That is why they become Democratic politicians!!

Gramercy
Gramercy

He should have been given a DUI! NO ONE should be love the rules of the law...no one!

Stanracer
Stanracer

Immune from arrest? Wait....what???

BlueProtects
BlueProtects

Remember it's the Lawmaker's that right the laws. So many of them use there title as a power move threatening Officers to get them time off without pay or fired for threatening a Government offical. Yes many do have that God like feeling about themselves. No one is above the Law. They should be held accountable under the same Laws as We The People do.
Those holding any Political position and abuse it they should face a serious penalty 1st offence. Then on there 2nd offense double that 1st offense penalty. On there 3rd offense automatic termination. Any DUI's 1st iffence minimum $10,000 fine and 2nd offence terminated. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT CIVIL SERVANTS TO WE THE PEOPLE FROM TOWN,CITY,STATE, SCHOOL AND LAWMAKER'S ETC. THEY ARE TO SET THE EXAMPLE OF WHAT THEY PREACH. THESE ARE ALL ELECTED OFFICIALS.

Sgt167
Sgt167

If the paperwork and other requirements are like Illinois, he would have been about a .75 or less (provided he didn’t just consume alcohol right before being stopped) by the time the Breath test was given in the station. By making an arrest for that it takes the officer off the road for several hours on an arrest that more than likely would be dismissed in court. Not a good use of time when all the factors are considered. Immunity is irrelevant in this situation.

Gap Filler
Gap Filler

Legislators in session or not, no one should be above the law, not even those who write them

Jim H. - Virginia US
Jim H. - Virginia US

Full video here.

PS: At 1:11, officer puts his prints on rear tail light.


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