INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After “inadvertent” or “unintended” mistakes in Indiana’s criminal code, Indiana lawmakers will return to the statehouse next week to make technical corrections to a law set to take effect July 1.
Without the changes – they warn – court systems could become bogged down with unnecessary work, police officers could lose their arrest powers for certain misdemeanors and some convicted child molesters could potentially receive reduced sentences.
“You see there are a number of changes,” Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, said Thursday during a news briefing with reporters on the proposed changes. “We’re doing (these changes) before anyone is affected.”
Lawmakers have worked for years to modify Indiana’s criminal code, which until this year, hadn’t undergone sweeping changes in more than four decades. The push behind House Bill 1006 was to reduce the financial burden on the state and reduce the state’s prison population by modifying sentences for lesser criminal offenses and ensuring harsher sentences for those convicted of serious crimes.
Among the changes to the law include a redefining of theft. Under current Indiana law, all thefts are considered felonies, but the law leaves open the possibility for prosecutors to use their discretion, which often results in charges being amended down to misdemeanors depending on the circumstances, according to Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and David Powell with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. The new law, however, doesn’t allow for prosecutors’ discretion, they claim. Instead, it defines theft as a felony when the item(s) stolen are worth $750, involves a firearm, or someone with a previous theft conviction.
If it falls under that $750 threshold, it’s considered a misdemeanor. In making that change, lawmakers forgot to give arrest powers to police. Generally, Powell says, under Indiana law police officers can’t make an arrest on misdemeanors they don’t witness — but there are some exceptions.
“Something just fell between the cracks that didn’t allow a police officer to make an arrest when (the) value of what’s being stolen is $749 or less,” said Grant Monahan, the president of the Indiana Retail Council.
Monahan said one of his clients noticed the issue before the end of this year’s spring session, but when he approached Rep. Steuerwald about the issue, he was informed it was too late to make the adjustment.
The technical correction day, June 17, Rep. Steuerwald says, will give lawmakers the ability to adjust language in the law to address that issue and others.
Among the other changes include removing duplicate language that – if left untouched – would have resulted in some child molesters receiving reduced sentences in the future.
“And it inadvertently reduced their sentence from 38 years to 30. So what we are doing here under the technical corrections is going back to the 38 years,” Rep. Steuerwald told I-Team 8.
Rep. Steuerwald admits that as more eyes adjust to the new law, he expects lawmakers to receive feedback and proposals on what could be changed.
In a recent interview with I-Team 8, Prosecutor Curry expressed concern about the new law, which is designed to help the state avoid having to build and operate a new state prison.
“The pitch was that savings at Department of Correction at the state level would flow to the counties – I think people are skeptical. There’s no mechanism for that to happen yet,” he said.
But Rep. Mike Young, R – Indianapolis, disagrees, saying there are cost-saving measures in place to alleviate the burden on the state and help the counties.