IN Focus: State senator defends controversial enforcement bill

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indiana’s Attorney General could override county prosecutors if a bill at the Statehouse keeps moving forward.  This legislation allows the AG to prosecute cases that a local prosecutor has a blanket policy not to pursue.

An example would be Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ decision to stop filing cases dealing with small amounts of marijuana.

Some say “no-prosecute policies” are a dangerous rising trend throughout the country.

This bill’s author, State Sen. Mike Young wants to give Indiana a tool to stop it.

Others argue voters already have that power at the ballot box and this would be a local government takeover.

“If prosecutors don’t have to carry out the laws in the state of Indiana? Who will?” asked Sen. Young.

He says this bill isn’t about marijuana. It’s about the rule of law.

“Can you imagine if a prosecutor had a wholesale policy in his office that they were not going to prosecute biased crimes? That would be wrong 100 percent,” said Young.

Sen. Young Says Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ decision not to prosecute small amounts of marijuana is merely an example of a growing “no prosecute” policy across the country. The Indiana Attorney General’s Office says these policies are concerning.

“If you don’t like the laws on the books, come to the statehouse and lobby to change them," said Parvonay Stover with the Indiana Attorney General's Office. "Don’t just pick and choose to enforce the laws that you want to.”

Prosecutor Ryan Mears views his role differently. He stands by his decision to stop prosecuting small amounts of marijuana in Marion County.

“It was very clear to us that this was having a disproportionate impact on people of color and that is an incredible injustice," said Mears. "And if I’m aware of an injustice or if there is a law or a policy that disproportionally impacts people in a way that does nothing to keep the community safe, I think it’s incumbent upon me to right that wrong.”

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council also opposes the till, along with the ACLU of Indiana and several other groups.

“Prosecutorial discretion is the holy grail to us,” said David Powell with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

“Senate Bill 436 provides no transparency and only allows the state attorney general to substitute his discretion for that of a county prosecutor,” said Katie Blair, the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for ACLU of Indiana.

If the AG decides to prosecute, the county would have to pay for it, not the state.

No one testified in favor of this bill, but Attorney General Curtis Hill’s representative says he isn’t against it.

“We signed in as neutral as this bill, we did not ask for this provision, but we are happy if asked by the General Assembly to step up,” said Stover.

The bill passed committee 6-3. A full Senate vote is expected next week.

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