« Ind. Decisions - Pleaded or Plead: Which is More Prevalent in Indiana Appellate Opinions? | Main | Ind. Decisions - Court of Appeals issues 3 today (and 5 NFP) »

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ind. Law - "Criminal code re-write would restore ‘fairness and proportionality’"

That is the headline to this story dated Jan. 16, by Maureen Hayden, CNHI Statehouse Bureau, here in the Logansport Pharos-Tribune. The worth reading in full story begins:

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 [SB 601, HB 1006], 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 in length, 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.

The House bill was heard in the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code Jan. 17, reported out Do Pass Amended, and referred to Ways and Means.

Dan Carden of the NWI Times had this story yesterday - some quotes:

Five years of bipartisan review, debate and negotiation paid off Wednesday as a House committee unanimously approved the first major overhaul of Indiana's criminal code since 1977.

"It is a big, big deal," said state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, a co-sponsor of House Bill 1006. "This is good for Hoosiers, it really is."

The 422-page proposal is a wholesale rethinking of felony crime and punishment with an eye toward improving the proportionality and certainty of prison time, reserving prison for the most serious offenders, and getting drug addicts and low-level offenders into treatment to reduce recidivism.

Under the plan, the current four levels of felonies would be expanded to six. That ensures similar crimes are treated the same way and that the most serious offenses get the toughest penalties, said state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, co-sponsor of the measure. * * *

The budget impact of the proposal has yet to be calculated by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Lawson said she expects the state will have to give counties new money to administer corrections programs if the measure becomes law.

"It's going to be a little difficult at first as far as paying for it, but in the long run it's going to be better for all of us," Lawson said.

The proposal is supported by the state associations of prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs and counties, all of whom worked with the state's Criminal Code Evaluation Commission since 2009 to shape the legislation.

It must still be approved by the House Ways and Means Committee before the measure can go to the full House for a vote to send it to the Senate.

If signed into law, the proposal wouldn't take effect until July 1, 2014, to give Hoosiers time to get used to the changes and lawmakers a chance to make additional reforms next year.

Here is a good quick overview of the introduced bill, prepared by Andrew Cullen of Indiana Public Defender Council.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 17, 2013 10:57 AM
Posted to Indiana Law