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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ind. Law - "Felony levels move from four to six: Series on Criminal Code changes"

The criminal code overhaul was enacted in the 2013 session, with an effective date of July 1, 2014. Earlier this year, the 2014 General Assembly passed a second bill "tuning-up" the changes before they go into effect. Today the General Assembly is meeting in a rare technical corrections day to make further adjustments to the bill.

The ILB has heard stories of judges and lawyers retiring before the criminal law overhaul takes effect, so that they don't have to deal with it. The same thing may have taken place when our state moved from code pleading to notice pleading in the late 1960s.

Today the Rushville Republican has the first of two stories on the changes from Rush County Prosecutor Phil Caviness. A few quotes:

During the 2013 Legislative Session, the Indiana General Assembly made sweeping changes to the Indiana Criminal Code, the first of its kind in over 40 years. In an effort to reduce the state’s prison population, the legislature changed the number of felony levels from four to six, changed the lengths of sentences for felonies and lessened the amount of credit time a person serving a sentence can receive. * * *

One of the most significant changes made to the criminal code is of the theft statute.

Under current law, theft of any property belonging to another person is a felony, no matter the value. A person convicted of theft as a felony could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. Under the new law taking effect July 1, theft will be considered a misdemeanor offense unless the item stolen has a value of more than $750, is a firearm, or if the person committing the theft has a previous theft conviction. A person convicted of theft as a misdemeanor could only be sentenced to up to one year in the Rush County Jail. Items with a value over $750, firearms, and thefts committed by repeat offenders will remain felonies.

Caviness explains, “The reduced penalty on theft offenses is going to cause major issues in our county. First off, the likelihood of theft occurring could increase because penalties have been reduced. The difference between three years in state prison and one year in our jail is substantial. Also, it is difficult to determine the value of some items. The legislature has given very little guidance on how to place a value on a stolen item. It may be easy to place a value on an IPad, but it will be very difficult to place a value on someone’s grandmother’s ring, which has a small fair market value but is priceless to the owner. Making theft crimes misdemeanors will also likely cause an increase in our local jail population which is already having overcrowding issues. These are problems which will have to be worked out over time, and there will not be a quick fix.” * * *

Caviness is unhappy with the changes made to the burglary statute saying, “The legislature has lessened the penalties for those that break in to people’s property. If a person breaks into a victim’s house to steal something before July 1, they could be looking at a 20 year sentence. A person committing the same crime after July 1 would only be looking at a maximum of 12 years. I find this very unsettling.”

In the next article of the series, Prosecutor Caviness will explain the changes to Indiana’s drug laws and how the changes will likely affect Rush County citizens. Watch the Rushville Republican for more information on these big changes in our county and state.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 17, 2014 09:02 AM
Posted to Indiana Law