ANNAPOLIS – Foreign diplomats who commit crimes or are involved in motor vehicle accidents in Maryland would be reported to the U.S. State Department under a bill introduced by Del. Gilbert J. Genn, D-Montgomery.
Genn said the catalyst for the bill was the January car accident, involving a high-ranking Georgian diplomat, that caused the death of a 16-year-old Kensington girl.
Washington, D.C., officials have indicated that Gueorgui Makharadze had a history of erratic driving, with citations issued there and in Northern Virginia, including an event last August where he nearly crashed into a marked police car. None of the traffic tickets was reported to the State Department.
Genn hopes his bill will help the State Department track such occurrences by requiring Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Motor Vehicle Administration to channel information to Washington.
The State Department issues driver’s licenses to diplomats and monitors driving violations through a point system similar to the MVA’s. If a diplomat tallies 12 points within a two-year period, the license is pulled for 90 days. A drunk driving incident means automatic suspension for one year.
According to police affidavits, the officer involved in the August incident did cite Makharadze for several violations, including driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He detected a “strong odor of alcohol” from Makharadze, but did not arrest him for drunken driving because of diplomatic immunity.
“If that had been reported to the State Department,” Genn said, “perhaps this most recent accident could have been prevented.”
But there is no federally mandated reporting system. The State Department relies on local authorities to relay incident reports. It encourages local police to enforce traffic laws, since diplomats are not immune to traffic citations.
According to Genn, many law enforcers “look the other way” when they stop a car with embassy plates because they think nothing will happen to the diplomatically immune. He believes police who know their actions have consequences may be more willing to target those they have treated with “benign neglect” in the past.
Although several stories about six-figure diplomatic parking ticket tabs have been in the news recently, Genn’s bill does not deal with such infractions. He said he focused on moving violations because they “specifically jeopardize citizens of the state.” The bill will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee March 6. -30-