Bills dealing with sex crime punishments move to full Senate

Two bills dealing with the punishment of sex crimes are moving to the full Indiana Senate for consideration.

Members of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee unanimously passed Senate Bills 166 and 169 Tuesday afternoon. Both bills deal with the proper punishments for sex crimes, though one seeks harsher punishment while the other is designed to show leniency.

SB 166, authored by Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, would vacate the convictions of human trafficking victims convicted of or adjudicated as delinquents for prostitution.

Sandlin, who has a law enforcement background, told committee members in an earlier meeting that in retrospect, he realizes many people who were prosecuted for prostitution during his career were actually trafficking victims, but law enforcement and legal officials didn’t know enough about the industry to recognize the signs. Through SB 166, trafficking victims with non-violent sex convictions can petition the court to have those convictions completely vacated, rather than expunged from their records.

Building on the idea that trafficking victims are just that – victims – Democratic Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, presented an amendment to Sandlin’s bill that would exclude any victim under the age of 18 from a prostitution conviction and would instead treat juvenile victims as children in need of services. Delaware Circuit Judge Kimberly Dowling spoke in favor of Lanane’s amendment, telling committee members that most juvenile trafficking victims don’t realize they are victims because they have faced significant mental manipulation.

The amended bill passed unanimously to the Senate floor. SB 169 – which would prohibit sex offenders from having felony convictions that were pleaded down to misdemeanors expunged from their records – also unanimously moved to the full chamber, but a proposed amendment failed to pass through the committee.

Under current expungement law, law enforcement officials are still able to access a person’s record and see what convictions have been expunged, even though the expunged convictions are no longer visible to the public if they are lower than Level 5 felonies. That portion of expungement law recently enabled law enforcement officials to deny a man’s application to become a reserve officer after they learned the man had a misdemeanor expunged from his record, Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, told his fellow committee members.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently ruled on this topic, causing one judge to suggest the Legislature carve out an exception for law enforcement.

While it is important for officers to be able to examine expunged records when they are investigating criminal activity, Taylor told the committee that it is not necessarily fair for law enforcement to be able to use those records against people in non-criminal capacities, such as the situation with the reserve officer applicant.  Thus, Taylor’s proposed amendment would have limited law enforcement’s ability to access expunged records to only in the course of “investigative and enforcement” capacities, not in other capacities, such as hiring.   

But after lengthy discussion and widespread concern about the implications of Taylor’s proposal, the amendment failed to gain the support of committee members. The bill, however, which was authored by committee chair Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, passed with full support.

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