Mt. Vernon Register-News

Community News Network

January 15, 2013

Bill offers re-write of state’s criminal code

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana may join a growing number of states that are reducing penalties for low-level drug crimes while increasing the punishment for violent criminals and sexual predators.

Under legislation filed Monday that rewrites much of the state’s criminal code, someone caught near a school with three grams of cocaine would no longer face a harsher penalty than a rapist, for example.

“It’s about restoring some fairness and proportionality to our system of criminal justice,” said Republican state Sen. Brent Steele, a key supporter of the bill and chair of the Senate courts and corrections committee.

The legislation calls for significantly reduced penalties for marijuana possession — though not decriminalization of pot as Steele has advocated for in the past.

Among the other changes: It increases the number of felony levels from the current four to six and spells out new rules for how prisoners could earn “credit time” for early release. It also gives judges more discretion over when to suspend prison sentences for some low-level crimes, but would add more violent crimes to the list of offenses with mandatory prison time.

The bill, more than 400 pages long, is modeled on recommendations from a legislature-appointed commission that called for overhauling the state’s criminal laws to make punishment more proportionate to the crime. Other states, including neighboring Kentucky, have followed a similar path.

Steele said the legislature’s history of being “tough on crime” has resulted in unfair and inconsistent laws and a criminal code that no longer contains like sentences for like crimes.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tightened the screws down in my 16 years of being here,” said the veteran lawmaker. “But I also understand what we’ve got right now isn’t fair.”

Steele, a lawyer from Bedford, is the lead author of the Senate version of the bill. It’s identical to the bill being carried by Republican state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, a lawyer from Avon who chairs the House judiciary committee.

Both are seen as conservative legislators, as is one of the bill’s champions, Republican Rep. Jud McMillin, a former deputy prosecutor from Brookville.

One of their central arguments for the bill is that Indiana’s prisons house too many low-level, non-violent offenders who could be better served in community-based correction programs that cost much less to operate. The bill’s fiscal impact statement estimates about 1,100 offenders a year would end up in local corrections programs rather than state prison.

“People who want to advocate being tough on crime need to be tempered by the fact that being tough on crime is tough on taxpayers,” McMillin said.

Steele said there are elements of the bill that some legislators won’t like because of fear they’ll be accused of being “soft on crime” when they face re-election.

The bill, for example, reduces the size of the “drug-free zones” around schools that give prosecutors the ability to bring tougher charges with longer prison terms. It would reduce the zone from 1,000 feet from a school to 500 feet.

While it restricts the amount of “credit time” that some offenders could earn by getting a college degree, it would make it easier for some low-level, non-violent offenders to get out early if they got training in a vocational trade while in prison.

Under current Indiana law, marijuana possession is a felony unless it’s a first time offense or the amount is less than one ounce. Under the proposed bill, possession of marijuana is reduced to a misdemeanor.

“There are some things in it that could be politicized,” said Steele. “But that’s why some of the things we need to do in the legislature don’t get ever done, because we’re afraid of what it’s going to look like.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why do wolves howl?

    Of all the myths that dog the wolf, none is more widely accepted than the idea that wolves howl at the moon. Images of wolves with their heads upturned, singing at the night sky, are as unquestioned as a goldfish's three-second memory or a dog's color-blindness (both also myths).

    April 18, 2014

  • quake.jpg Pennsylvania won’t take action following Ohio ruling on quakes, fracking

    Pennsylvania officials plan no action despite new Ohio rules on drilling that affect a seismically active area near the state line.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Google acquires drone maker Titan Aerospace to spread Internet

    Google is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.
    The Internet search company said it acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides customer access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    April 14, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks