State criminal code changes first in 35 years
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent June 29, 2014 5:28PM
Updated: June 30, 2014 2:03AM
VALPARAISO — The Porter County Prosecutor’s Office spent the last full week of June training the county’s more than 300 police officers in the state’s new criminal code.
Officers need to know how to charge crimes under House Bill 1006, which changes Tuesday the classifications of felonies from Class A, D, C, and D to Levels 1-6.
“We had to train so late in the month because we didn’t have time,” Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said.
His deputies spent June 18-20 downstate learning the latest tweaks to the first major changes in Indiana criminal code since 1979.
Charging on the new system is based on when the crime happened, so a crime that happens June 30 will still be charged under the old system, even if it’s charged after July 1.
“The intent of the revision was to reduce the number of nonviolent and drug-addicted inmates in the Department of Corrections while establishing provisions to increase the sentences of the ‘worst of the worst’ murderers, violent felons and predators,” Gensel said by email last week.
The legislature left penalties for 250 felonies unchanged, including murder, which stands as its own felony category, while 90 drug and property felonies have decreased penalties.
The lawmakers believed that “drug defendants that were more drug addicts than drug dealers would be better served through community corrections programs,” Gensel said.
That includes therapy, house arrest and other alternatives.
“We have one of the best and most extensive community corrections programs in the state,” Porter Superior Judge Roger Bradford said. “So we don’t send nonviolent felons to the Department of Corrections as often as others.”
Drug dealing crimes can be increased by circumstances, such as use of a weapon, prior convictions, criminal gang involvement, dealing to children, the presence of children and being within 500 feet of a school.
The dollar amount of the drugs and the weight will also determine the level a defendant is charged.
Other crimes, such as theft and property damage, are affected by cost, too.
Bradford said that may cause complications, at least at first.
“Are we going to get hung up on a case that’s close? How do we determine a dollar value,” Bradford said.
Other changes include the habitual offender enhancement being consolidated into one form, although the amount of extra time served under that increases with higher felonies, and no minimum mandatory sentences for drug-related crimes.
Porter Superior Judge William Alexa said legislators also found no reason to charge first-time shoplifters with a felony, changing it from the current code where someone who steals candy is charged at the same level as someone who steals a car.
Gensel said prosecutors always had discretion in those cases. However, gangs have started moving into shoplifting large amounts of items they can sell easily to small stores, such as razor blades.
Only Level 6 felonies — formerly Class D — will still get 50 percent “good time credit,” getting a day of credit for each day served without incident.
The other felonies, except for serious charges that require 85 percent of the sentence be served, would get a 75 percent reduction, or a day of credit for each three served.
Alexa, himself a former Porter County chief deputy prosecuting attorney and a state senator from 1988 to 2002, said lobbying groups, including prosecutors, pushed for higher felonies serving 75 percent.
He’s concerned that change will negate the original intent of JHB1006
“It’s going to make longer prison terms, and the prison population is going to go up,” Alexa said.
Pursuing drug crimes
Gensel and Porter County Drug Task Force Director Bob Taylor agree that the new law will change the way that they get drugs off the street.
“Because weight is an issue, we’re going to have to buy larger amounts of narcotics,” Gensel said.
That will tie up the money used for buying drugs until court cases are settled, although the county may apply for federal grants.