With the New Year comes new proposed legislation. From small corrections to major legal changes, Indiana’s representatives and senators have already begun to address a wide range of criminal matters. Take a look at some bills that could affect you and your rights soon.
A Focus on Hate Crimes
Indiana legislators are clearly focusing on identifying and punishing hate crimes within the state. As of right now, Indiana is only one of five states within the U.S. that do not have a statute focusing on bias-related crimes. In total, six bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate, addressing various aspects of hate crimes:
- SB 333: Law enforcement would be required to receive training to identify and respond to bias-related crimes and would establish a sentence enhancement of up to five years for a hate crime. This bill would also allow victims of hate crimes to bring a civil action in court.
- SB 336: This bill would define a hate crime, require law enforcement to receive training on hate crimes, require law enforcement to collect and report hate crime data, and include bias as an aggravating circumstance during criminal sentencing.
- SB 438: This bill would make bias an aggravating circumstance in crimes committed with the intent to harm or intimidate an individual based on actual or perceived characteristics and would require law enforcement to report hate crime data to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
- SB 439: This bill would make bias an aggravating circumstance for crimes committed with the intent to harm or intimidate someone based on actual or perceived characteristics.
- HB 1066: This bill would define a hate crime, require law enforcement to collect and report hate crime data, and include bias as an aggravating circumstance a judge may consider during criminal sentencing.
- HB 1090: Damaging or defacing property in a way that exposes a person or group to hate, contempt, disgrace, or ridicule would be a Level 6 felony.
Similar bills were proposed in 2016, but did not get enough traction to make it through both the House and the Senate. Indiana has faced opposition to hate crime bills for a variety of reasons, including concerns regarding free speech and the extension of civil protections for members of the LGBTQ community. However, many legislators fully support a hate crime bill and Indiana may see one or more of these proposals pass in 2017.
Senate Bill 169 Would Eliminate Expungement for Misdemeanor Sex Crimes
Under Indiana’s expungement rules, sex crimes usually cannot be taken off of a person’s criminal record. The state believes it is in the public’s best interest to have these crimes visible upon a background check. However, there is a slight loophole to the law. Level 6 felony sex crimes, including sexual misconduct with a minor, can be pled down to misdemeanors. This makes some sex crime offenders eligible to have their records expunged within five years of completing their sentences. This issue is why Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, wrote SB 169, which seeks to close this loophole. The bill calls for amending Indiana Code 35-38-9 and providing that all misdemeanor sex or violent offenders cannot obtain expungement in the future.
Legislators agree that prohibiting expungement can be appropriate in the case of an older adult or an individual in a position of authority having a sexual relationship with a minor. However, others disagree with this bill since the crime of sexual misconduct with a minor can result in a conviction based on a consensual relationship between, for example, a 17-year-old and a 22-year-old.
Civil Forfeiture Laws May Change
Unless a person has been on the losing end of a civil forfeiture proceeding, they may not know that the police can seize personal property for the government if it is in some way connected to the commission of a crime. Indiana’s civil forfeiture law has enabled the police to take cash, cars, jewelry, and other property to raise millions of dollars every year that go to local police forces, prosecutors, and the Common School Fund. These civil forfeiture laws have been controversial because they do not require that a person be convicted of a crime to lose their property. Police can take property from anyone stopped, searched, or arrested.
Indiana may be ready to change this. Eight bills have been proposed in the House and Senate, which would limit civil forfeiture. One of them, SB 8 would limit the state’s civil forfeiture rights to only individuals who have been convicted of a crime. Others call for changes in how forfeitures can be used.
Senate Bill 120 Could Alter Plea Agreement and Sentencing in Criminal Cases
What a judge has to tell a defendant when approving a plea agreement or handing down a sentence may change this year. Right now, a judge must tell a defendant their earliest and latest release dates available under the law. This provides individuals with important information regarding the earliest they may be let out from jail or prison or how long they can be held. A few judges around Indiana have found this requirement to be a burden on the court system. SB 120 would eliminate this sentencing requirement. The bill would also eliminate a provision from current law that states the official record can exclude a plea agreement, presentence report, and hearings on the plea agreement unless the plea agreement is accepted by the court. It is unlikely that this bill would drastically affect defendants. However, individuals charged and convicted of crimes in Indiana should speak with their attorneys about potential release dates.
Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you are currently facing charges in Indiana, contact the experienced criminal attorneys of Hessler Law at (317) 886-8800. We are available to analyze your case and build you the strongest defense possible under the law. Our number one priority will be to protect your rights and freedom.