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Public Defenders Question Stricter Criminal Sentences

The Indiana Public Defenders Council says legislation overhauling the state’s criminal code toughens sentences for some crimes without providing evidence increased penalties are needed.

A legislative commission spent years crafting the criminal code revision bill. But the commission’s final product did not include a new sentencing grid, which would outline the number of years assigned to each felony level, including increasing the penalties for serious crimes.

Public Defenders Council Executive Director Larry Landis points out the maximum amount of time served for a rape conviction could increase by more than 17 years under the proposed bill. Landis says there is no evidence to suggest increasing the penalty will help prevent the crime and says the sentences actually need to be lowered in this year’s bill.

“Of the 150 legislators, I can’t probably identify more than six who are likely to vote to reduce the sentences, even if they agree they’re too high,” he says.

If it is passed, the bill would not go into effect until 2014, so the legislature can address issues with it next session. Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) says, if the General Assembly needs to reduce the sentences next year, it will.

“People already have voted in the House to reduce some of the penalties in this bill,” he says. “So to say that there’s never the courage on the part of any legislator to take a hard vote, I don’t think that’s true.”

A Senate committee will vote on the bill Thursday. If passed, the measure will head to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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