Lebanon Reporter

September 19, 2013

Criminal code reform task not complete

By Todd J. Meyer
Boone County Prosecutor

---- — During the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly took positive steps in enacting the first comprehensive criminal code reform since 1977 in House Enrolled Act 1006. Prosecutors from around the state, including myself, advocated for many of these positive changes, which I believe are a significant step toward a better criminal justice system in Indiana. However, much critical and important work remains to be done on HEA 1006 before its effective date of July 1, 2014. Thus, prosecutors are advocating for additional critical improvements to ensure the safety and protection of all Hoosiers. Some examples of the positive changes included in HEA 1006 are increased penalties for some violent crimes and the requirement that felons serve 75 percent of their sentences. Currently, felons often serve less than 50 percent of their sentences due to “good time credit” and other credits for completing education and/or counseling classes. Another positive change, not included in HEA 1006 but supported by prosecutors, is the proposition that the legislature should fund rehabilitative services for those with substance addiction. Here in Boone County, drug cases have risen 150 percent since 2007. In the last year alone, heroin-related overdose deaths have taken the lives of 13 Boone County citizens — many of whom are younger than age 25. Yet, our system has few options when dealing with defendants suffering from addiction. It is clear that without proper treatment, those with substance addiction will commit new crimes to support their habit and have done so: Burglary cases are up 264 percent since 2009 and theft cases are up 145 percent. The funding of rehabilitative services, which may include funding to establish a “Drug Court,” will provide an additional tool in the fight against crime, and we as prosecutors support its inclusion in HEA 1006. However, there are changes to the criminal code proposed in HEA 1006, which prosecutors do not support. Specifically, HEA 1006 dramatically reduces penalties for drug dealers and manufacturers. Prosecutors firmly believe that our communities must be protected from the manufacturers and dealers of hard drugs such as meth, heroin and cocaine. With the seizure of more than 1,700 meth labs in Indiana last year, 18 of which occurred here in Boone County, and the sharp increase in heroin use and overdoses, we cannot stand for dramatic reductions in penalties for dealers of these hard drugs. Indiana needs a strong response to those who seek to destroy our communities through such activities. Also troubling, HEA 1006 allows sentences for all crimes to be fully suspended, meaning instead of incarceration, convicted felons may be placed on probation and would remain in our communities. Prosecutors strongly believe that serious felons should not be eligible to receive a fully suspended sentence. A rapist, a child molester, a felon who committed an armed robbery — all of these offenders would be eligible for suspended sentences under HEA 1006, as it stands today. This is unacceptable. It is a drastic change from longstanding law and must be corrected. Finally, prosecutors will be seeking stronger penalties for child pornographers, human traffickers and those who harm children. Some of the penalties for these crimes are the lowest felonies in the Indiana Criminal Code — the same as voter fraud, forgery and other non-violent crimes. We believe those who harm children should be treated much more severely. We appreciate the difficult task and hard work of the legislature thus far in reforming the Indiana Criminal Code, and we look forward to a productive dialogue with the General Assembly and all of those interested in seeking justice for victims in Indiana. Please join us as we work to serve and protect the citizens of Indiana.