INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Clifton Withers is a lucky man.
The 44-year-old Indianapolis man with a long criminal history — which began in 1997 with a cocaine conviction and later included a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon — was arrested with cocaine, heroin and a gun in the spring of 2018.
Withers, who picked up another drug arrest while out on bond awaiting trial, took a guilty plea last week to dealing narcotics while armed.
Marion County deputy prosecutors wanted Withers sentenced to 10 years in prison.
What he got instead was a trip home.
“In this particular case, the judge had a different perspective and sentenced him to a period of home detention. I think it was 14 years,” said Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears. “I cannot recall an incident where I’ve seen someone receive a home detention sentence of that length.”
Withers was originally sentenced to 19 years of community correction with five years suspended.
“14 years on home detention is a significant period of time,” said Mears. “I think you hope in every case every individual is going to live up to the bargain and do what they’re supposed to do when they are on community correction.”
Lenient pre-trial bail amounts and alternative sentencing have Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police President Rick Snyder angry enough to testify before state lawmakers and calling for more judicial oversight of the standard risk assessment matrix process that frees offenders pending trial or reduces prison time.
“How in the world do you let a serious violent felon right back out into our neighborhoods when they’ve been convicted again of narcotics charges?” Snyder asked. “What we see time and again is those folks who are not held accountable for those violent offenses are then coming back out, and there is a new victim or they’re the victim, and that’s why we keep saying, ‘Today they’re the suspect, tomorrow they’re the victim.’”
Mears said of the 30,000 cases filed by his office last year, 17,000 were for misdemeanor offenders and three of them were later charged with murder.
Of 49 murder cases that went to trial last year, Mears said 36 resulted in some sort of conviction, either to the main count or a lesser charge, two cases were dismissed and 11 led to not guilty verdicts.
Mears created waves among IMPD officers and the criminal justice system late last year when he said his office would no longer prosecute most minor marijuana charges.
Mears told the Criminal Justice Planning Council this week that 340 marijuana possession cases were dismissed and up to 40 more are being evaluated.
Bail reform and sentencing alternatives, along with improved sheriff’s office processes, have for the first time in several years reduced the population of the Marion County Jail system by more than 300 offenders, permitting officials to clear some cell blocks in an attempt to undertake long overdue maintenance and painting.
“I think its just been faster processing, and you’ve had some other things come along like automated bond schedules and some real improvement on the speed of how we get the job done,” said Sheriff’s Colonel James Martin.
Martin said of the 2,179 offenders in three detention locations downtown, 269 of the inmates are state prisoners serving their incarceration at the local jail as part of a state prison population reduction strategy that has instead crowded county jails across Indiana.