Obstruction of justice bill signed into law

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed into law a bill that aims to foster a more efficient legal process for domestic violence and child abuse cases where witnesses are likely to fail to appear or not testify truthfully.

Senate Bill 70 – now Senate Enrolled Act 70 – finished its course at the Indiana Statehouse on Monday. The House-amended legislation passed the full Senate 47-0 on Feb. 24 before landing on the governor’s desk on March 7.

Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, originally brought SB 70 after speaking with local officials and members of the legal community who voiced concerns about barriers they’ve experienced in getting witnesses to appear and speak truthfully during domestic violence and child abuse proceedings.

The original bill would have removed an exemption for attorneys against obstruction of justice charges. However, that fell through early on.

Members of the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee on Feb. 16 agreed to adopt an amendment the measure that would remove the word “persuasion.” The term had previously caused concerns for lawmakers and stakeholders who said it that language was too broad and vague.

“The remaining portion of the bill is useful language and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council thinks it will help them as they deal with these cases going forward,” Crider said to the full Senate on Feb. 24. “It will be an improvement in statute.”

As it stands, SEA 70 provides that a person commits obstruction of justice if the person induces a witness in a legal proceeding to withhold or delay producing evidence that the witness is legally required to produce; avoids a subpoena or court order; doesn’t appear at a proceeding to which the witness has been summoned; or gives a false or materially misleading statement.

The law also provides that a person commits Level 5 felony obstruction of justice if the person induces a witness to give a false or materially misleading statement during the investigation or pendency of a domestic violence or child abuse case.

Finally, the new law also establishes a uniform definition of “communicates” for Indiana criminal code.

Democratic Sen. Rodney Pol Jr., also an attorney, thanked Crider for accepting the changes suggested by Democrats and said the removal “makes for better law” and puts everyone “on the same page.”

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