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Study Committee Approves Criminal Code Recommendations

Criminal Code Evaluation Commission

Photo: Brandon Smith/IPBS

Criminal Code Evaluation Commission members during Wednesday's meeting.

The 16-member Criminal Code Evaluation Commission approved Wednesday recommendations it is making to lawmakers in what would be the the first comprehensive reform of Indiana’s criminal code in 30 years next session.

Legislative Hurdles

A huge portion of the criminal code overhaul will be put in one piece of legislation next session, something Indiana Public Defender Council executive director Larry Landis says may not work. Landis prefers a piecemeal approach, making incremental steps towards reforming the code. But he says that is not the effort’s biggest obstacle.

“When you ask elected officials to vote to reduce penalties for crime, they get a little nervous because it’s safe to say, ‘We want new crimes and enhanced punishments,” he says.

Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council executive director David Powell says both sides will have to give something in order to make the reform work.  But he says he does not see a crisis situation that necessarily calls for significant penalty reduction.

“And I feel uncomfortable as an old prosecutor saying that lowering penalties will reduce crime,” he says. “You could argue that it might increase.”

What Is Still Left Unresolved

Both Democrat and Republican legislators say they expect to pass a significant portion of criminal code reform legislation in the upcoming session. But the commission could not agree on a revised sentencing grid which spells out penalties for offenders, or language for sentencing habitual offenders.

Still, Danville Republican State Rep. Greg Steuerwald, who will sponsor the bill in the House, says he expects the General Assembly to pass the law next session.

“We still have some finishing touches to make and we hope to have an amendment that’s going to be taken to the committee on these last two issues that’ll become part of the bill for consideration this session,” he says.

Indianapolis Democratic Senator Greg Taylor says passing the bill will require a bipartisan effort.

“We just all got to recognize we’re not going to get everything,” he says. “Nobody’s going to walk away happy.”

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