INDIANAPOLIS– Some Indiana lawmakers are trying to create a check on local “no prosecute” policies.
“There’s been a growing trend across the United States,” said SB 200 author Republican State Sen. Mike Young.
He said his bill was inspired by prosecutors in other states with blanket policies against prosecuting certain crimes.
“Trespassing, shoplifting,” said Young. “Disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and receiving stolen property.”
Those are just some of the crimes Young said are part of these ‘no prosecute’ policies elsewhere in the country.
The only example of this happening here in Indiana, according to Sen. Young, is at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.
“It’s totally about the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and marijuana,” said Democratic Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears.
Mears said the bill is being pursued because he decided not to prosecute people if they have less than 30 grams of marijuana on them. However, Young disagreed with those claims.
“This bill is not about the Marion County Prosecutor, this was started before he was the prosecutor and has nothing to do with him,” said Young. “It has to do with any prosecutor in the state of Indiana that decides to have a policy to prosecute certain crimes.”
The bill says the Indiana Attorney General will appoint a special prosecutor for the crimes county prosecutors categorically decide not to charge. We reached out to AG Todd Rokita on this bill but have yet to hear back.
“We have a system in this country, if you don’t like the law, you can come to the legislature and get it changed,” said Sen. Young.
The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council opposes this legislation saying some are making these decisions not to prosecute certain crimes based off limited resources.
“If the General Assembly wants us to prosecute everything all of the time then give us the money and resources to do that,” said Dave Powell with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
Mears said a check on power already exists since prosecutors are elected.
“If the community is not satisfied with the direction the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office is going, they can vote with their voices and their feet at the ballot box, they can elect somebody different,” said Mears.
Some have expressed concerns that policies like Mears’ can confuse the public and make them think marijuana is now legal in Indiana.
“The policy is very clear and it’s also very simple. If you have less than 30 grams of marijuana on your person, we’re not going to prosecute you. We are going to prosecute you if you deal it, if you consume it in public, or if you drive under the influence of marijuana.” said Mears. “That’s not a complicated policy. Nobody has said to me, ‘Wow, this is really ambiguous, we can’t figure out what you are doing here.’”
Mears said he decided to make this policy because small marijuana possession charges were disproportionately impacting the black community. The office is also focused on increased violent crimes in the county and this frees up resources for that.
“I’m going to make sure that this office does everything that it can do to address racial inequality in the criminal justice system and we are going to aggressively protect the rights of everybody here in Marion County,” said Mears.
The bill passed the Indiana Senate and now heads to the Indiana House of Representatives for consideration.