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Criminal law committee sends sentencing bill to Legislature

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What was called the key to making Indiana’s new criminal code work has received a nod of approval and is now headed to the Legislature.

The Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee concluded its work Dec. 19 by approving a handful of proposed bills, including one on sentencing. Committee Chair, R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, said he felt good about what the interim group was able to accomplish this summer and fall.

Much of the focus of the committee’s agenda has been on reducing the rate of recidivism in the state and devising a sentencing grid for the new criminal code contained in HEA 1006, passed during the 2013 session. Sentencing became the hot-button issue as prosecutors pushed for stiffening the penalties and public defenders advocated for lowering the maximum prison terms for low-level offenders.

Young appointed four committee members – Republicans Sen. Brent Steele, and Reps. Greg Steuerwald and Jud McMillin, along with Democrat Rep. Matt Pierce – to draft changes to the sentencing portion of HEA 1006.

The bill’s provisions include:
* limiting the number of times an offender may file a petition to modify a sentence
* removing the requirement that courts hold a hearing on petitions to modify
* requiring additional prison terms for habitual offenders
* increasing advisory sentences for Level Three, Four and Five felonies
* increasing the number of crimes for which sentences are nonsuspendible
* requiring education credit time be deducted from the release date
* removing the requirement that the courts explain their reasoning when imposing the advisory sentences

Steele, chair of the sentencing workgroup, said the four legislators took ideas from prosecutors and public defenders to craft a bill that would lower the inmate population at the Indiana Department of Correction and provide effective treatment alternatives for low-level offenders.

He said sentencing policy is the key to making HEA 1006 work.

The committee passed the draft on a 9 to 4 vote. David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council voted yes. Both Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, and Randy Koester, deputy commissioner of re-entry for the DOC, voted against the measure. They cited concerns that the sentencing structure would increase the prison population and overload the state’s penal system.

The committee also unanimously approved a draft proposal that established a mental-health pilot project in Marion County to provide mental health and addiction services to offenders who are released from prison.

A bill establishing another pilot project in Marion County drew heavy opposition. Authored by Young, the measure would create a three-year program to consolidate community corrections and the probation department.

Stakeholders in the criminal justice system asked the committee to scrap the bill and allow them to write the legislation. They were concerned about what they saw as a top-down approach.

Young emphasized the bill will only impact Marion County and that he intends to listen to the stakeholders to improve the draft during the legislative session. Other committee members noted the measure was imperfect but it offered a good starting point to craft something better.

The proposed legislation narrowly passed with an 8 to 5 vote.

Finally, the committee unanimously approved a proposal by Rep. Christina Hale, D-Indianapolis, to study the underreporting of certain crimes.

Hale’s bill requires the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana to study the underreporting of crimes against children. It also requires the Indiana Department of Health or its Office of Women’s Health to conduct a study of the number of victims of domestic and sexual violence and why these crimes are underreported.   
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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