Bill giving longer sentences to drug dealers headed to governor

A bill imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders has been approved by the Indiana Legislature and is expected to be signed by Gov. Mike Pence.

House Bill 1235, authored by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, would toughen some of the state’s criminal laws by requiring defendants convicted of dealing in controlled substances to serve at least 10 years in prison. The measure passed the Senate on March 1 by a 40-10 vote and sailed through the House of Representatives on March 4, 86-4.

“I want to make every effort to ensure the safety of our families and communities,” Steuerwald said. “We have introduced bills this session that combat the drug issues plaguing Indiana. This legislation builds on that momentum and serves as another step toward greater accountability and security for Hoosiers.”

Despite the support, the bill did raise some controversy. The original version would have required that all individuals convicted of a Level 2 drug felony had to serve a minimum of 10 years.

In that form, it slipped through the House but when the bill was presented to the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee Feb. 16, several members balked.

 Democrats Greg Taylor and Karen Tallian and Republican Brent Steele were concerned about increasing penalties so soon after the state has overhauled its criminal code. Indiana reformed it crime laws, seeking to reduce recidivism by offering treatment and rehabilitation services to drug offenders instead of lengthy prison sentences. The reform bill was passed by the General Assembly in 2013 and took effect July, 1, 2014.

Committee chair Sen. R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, delayed the vote on HB 1235 and asked Steuerwald to confer with committee members to work out a compromise.

The amended bill prohibits judges from suspending any portion of the sentence that exceeds the minimum of 10 years for a Level 2 felony if the defendant was dealing in methamphetamine or heroin and has a prior felony for selling drugs. An exception was carved out that offenders who have a prior conviction for dealing marijuana or synthetic drugs would not be subjected to the mandatory minimum sentence.


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