Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

October 4, 2013

Reform needed for Indiana's criminal code

The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — During the 2013 legislative session, the General Assembly took positive steps in enacting the first comprehensive criminal code reform since 1977 in House Enrolled Act 1006. This was a significant step toward a better criminal justice system in Indiana.

Included in the reforms are requirements that felons serve 75 percent of their sentences and increases in penalties for some violent crimes. The Legislature delayed the effective date of the new code to July 1, 2014, to allow time to encourage a review of the proposed law and potential changes to HEA 1006 in its current form.

Prosecutors believe that the Indiana criminal code must serve and protect the citizens of Indiana. We support the positive changes in HEA 1006 and the proposition that the Legislature should fund rehabilitative services for those with substance addiction. As the Indiana Legislature continues to review the Indiana criminal code in the 2014 legislative session, protecting Hoosiers should be the top priority. Prosecutors are advocating for additional critical improvements to ensure safety and protection of Hoosiers.

As written, HEA 1006 dramatically reduces penalties for drug dealers and manufacturers. Prosecutors believe that our communities must be protected from manufacturers and dealers of drugs such as meth, heroin and cocaine. With the seizure of over 1,700 meth labs in Indiana last year (third in the United States) and the sharp increase in heroin use and overdoses, we cannot support dramatic reductions in penalties for dealers of these drugs. Indiana needs a strong response to those who seek to destroy our communities through these activities.

Additionally, HEA 1006 currently allows sentences for nearly every crime to be fully suspended – no incarceration. Prosecutors strongly believe that serious felons should not be eligible to receive a fully suspended sentence. A rapist, a child molester, a felon who committed an armed robbery – all of these offenders would be eligible for suspended sentences under HEA 1006. This is a significant change from longstanding law, and prosecutors will seek to have this amended.

Finally, prosecutors will be seeking harsher penalties for child pornographers, human traffickers and those who harm children. Some of the penalties for these crimes are the lowest felonies in the Indiana Criminal Code – the same as voting fraud, forgery and other nonviolent crimes. We believe those who harm children should be treated much more severely.

We appreciate the difficult task and hard work of the Legislature thus far in reforming the Indiana criminal code, and we look forward to a productive dialogue with the General Assembly and all of those interested in seeking justice for victims in Indiana. Please join us as we work to serve and protect the citizens of Indiana.

Richard J. Hertel, Ripley County prosecuting attorney