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Opportunity to make a good law better

Prosecutors offer legislators criminal code improvements

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 a requirement that felons serve 75 percent of their sentence 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 review the proposed changes and to propose positive changes to House Enrolled Act 1006.

Prosecutors believe that the Indiana criminal code must serve and protect the citizens of Indiana. We support the positive changes in House Enrolled Act 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, prosecutors are advocating for additional critical improvements in the new law to ensure the safety and protection of Hoosiers.

Some examples of improvements we are seeking follow.

•As written, House Enrolled Act 1006 dramatically reduces penalties for drug dealers and manufacturers.

Prosecutors firmly believe that our communities must be protected from manufacturers and dealers of hard drugs such as meth, heroin and cocaine.

With the seizure of more than 1,700 meth labs in Indiana last year, and the sharp increase in heroin use and overdoses, we cannot stand for dramatic reductions in penalties for dealers of hard drugs. Indiana needs a strong response to those who seek to destroy our communities by selling poison to our citizens.

We also know that many of our homicides are the result of disputes among drug dealers.

•Additionally, HEA 1006 currently allows sentences for most crimes to be fully suspended.

Prosecutors strongly believe that serious felons should not be eligible to receive a fully suspended sentence. A rapist, a child molester, a felon who commits an armed robbery – all of these offenders would be eligible for suspended sentences under HEA 1006. This is a drastic change from long-standing law and must be corrected.

•Finally, prosecutors will be seeking stronger 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 vote fraud, forgery and other non-violent 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.

Karen E. Richards is the prosecuting attorney for Allen County. She wrote this for Fort Wayne newspapers.