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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Ind. Law - Not one of the IndyStar's best efforts

The Indianapolis Star has a long story today by Justin L. Mack, reporting on the new sentencing changes. It is accompanied by a stock photo of a blue handbag. IU McKinney law prof Joel Schumm has these comments on the story:

The story is so confusing that even the Star’s headline writers were perplexed. The headline now (correctly) reads “Penalties for stealing in Indiana get pinched”; an earlier headline referred to penalties being stiffer. Elsewhere on the website a headline reads, “Stealing a purse worth $750 is now a felony.”

To be clear, stealing a purse worth $750 has always been a felony. Before July 1 of this year, stealing anything (a pack of gum, a pickle, a quarter) from any person, store, or home could be charged as a theft, which was a class D felony carrying a sentencing range of six months to three years. (And if a defendant had two prior, unrelated felony convictions, the defendant could receive an additional 1.5 to 4.5 years for being a habitual offender.) A prosecutor could also charge the crime as criminal conversion, a class A misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year and without the collateral consequences and greatly reduced job prospects that come with the “convicted felon” label.

David Powell, head of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council , told the Star: "You should put the trust in your law enforcement officers and the prosecution. We've made that argument all during 2013, and we continue to in 2014."

That message has not resonated — and with good reason. Although some prosecutors previously exercised discretion appropriately to give petty thieves a break by charging them with criminal conversion, too many others did not — charging felonies for those who take items worth a few dollars or less and leaving taxpayers holding the bag for the cost of the much longer sentences. The new threshold of $750 or a prior conviction for criminal conversion strikes the right balance—and forces all prosecutors to be reasonable.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 3, 2014 02:43 PM
Posted to Schumm - Commentary