Commission calls for rewrite of Indiana's felony charging, sentencing system


The last time Indiana adopted a rewritten criminal code, Jimmy Carter was president and the Indianapolis Colts were still in Baltimore, Md.

For the last 35 years, lawmakers have adopted revisions in a piecemeal manner as both crimes and punishment have evolved.

Now, the staff of the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission has written a 375 report calling for a sweeping rewrite of the state's felony charging and sentencing system.

"Prosecutors have for a long time wanted the worst of the worst, if you will the rapists and the murderers and the child molesters, to be held more accountable than they are right now," said Dave Powell of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

Under the proposed revisions, Indiana's current felony classification system would expand from four felonies plus murder to six classes of felony plus murder.

For example, a child molester who fondled a victim less than 14 years old would face more prison time. A burglar who causes a more serious injury would face a stiffer penalty than a burglar who causes a minor injury.

Right now, a drug offender in possession of cocaine faces up to 50 years in prison, while a rapist could face just 20 years.

"Over the course of the last 35 years, we've got to the point where simply possessing three grams of drugs within a thousand feet of so many different items…is treated at a much higher level than other crimes, for instance, rape, arson or child molesting," said Andrew Cullen of the Indiana Public Defender Council. "We are recommending penalty increases for the most serious sex crimes and violent crimes. We're basically recommending overall a shift from those folks who are sex and violent offenders who are spending not enough time to giving them the time we are wasting by incarcerating folks who are low level property offenders."

Under the proposed revisions, costs might increase due to tougher child abuse sentences, enhanced habitual offender sentence and reduced good time credits.

"Right now, everybody in Indiana gets a day for a day credit and there's a strong push for our most serious people that those credit rules be stronger, for example, they do 85 percent of their time instead of half their time," Powell said.

Lawmakers were recently outraged when sex offender Chris Wheat served less than two years of an eight-year sentence for molesting a young girl by behaving himself in prison and taking college courses.

Costs could be reduced by the changes because some lower level felonies would be suspended, a thief would have to steal at least $750 before being charged with a felony and some lower level drug offenders could be given more leeway by judges and prosecutors.

The commission will take up the report’s recommendations September 6, before vetting the proposals for eventual passage to the General Assembly for adoption.

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