Bill amendment lets AG step in when local prosecutors won’t enforce law

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The current version of the state’s abortion bill could allow Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita to step in when county prosecutors choose not to pursue certain violations of state law.

Under an amendment to Senate Bill 1 by Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, Rokita would have concurrent jurisdiction over cases in which  prosecutors “categorically” refuse to enforce certain laws. The amendment applies to blanket refusals, not instances where prosecutors decide not to prosecute singular cases based on evidence.

Freeman introduced the amendment Friday. It passed by a voice vote.

“The role of a prosecutor’s office is to prosecute crimes,” Freeman said. “Their job is not to pick and choose which laws they enforce.”

The amendment has potential ramifications for Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, a Democrat who has announced that he will not prosecute cases involving abortion or possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“The amendment that challenges jurisdiction in abortion-related cases adds yet another layer of constitutional challenges to a proposed bill filled with significant legal issues,” Michael Leffler, spokesperson for Mears, told IBJ in an email. “Prosecutor Mears’ stance on these matters has not changed. We will continue to monitor the proposed legislation as the special session continues.”

Cyndi Carrasco, Mears’ Republican opponent in the November election for Marion County prosecutor, said the amendment was a response prompted only by Mears’ maneuvers.

“The only reason the Indiana General Assembly has taken this significant step is because Ryan Mears prefers to push his extreme political agenda by once again categorically choosing to ignore certain laws,” Carrasco said in a written statement. “Instead of promoting his ‘soft on crime’ agenda, Mears should be working every day to fight crime and make Indianapolis safe.”

Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, introduced a non-compliant prosecutor bill during the 2022 session. Young denied that the bill was aimed at Mears, but targeted “social justice prosecution,” after Mears announced in 2019 that he wouldn’t prosecute low-level marijuana crimes. Freeman was a co-author of the bill. Indianapolis Senate Republicans authored similar bills in 2021 and 2020, but none have been successful.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council did not comment on the amendment, but opposed the legislation proposed by Young during the 2022 session. The organization cited the importance of prosecutorial discretion.

Prior to the adoption of the amendment, Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant cited concerns about this legislation returning. Oliphant, a Democrat, said in a statement to IBJ on June 26 she is “pro-choice,” but choosing not to prosecute abortion cases “may renew legislators’ interest in a non-compliant prosecutor bill.”

Oliphant did not comment on the amendment to SB 1. Johnson County Prosecutor Joe Villanueva, Hamilton County Prosecutor D. Lee Buckingham and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Mears announced his decision June 24.

“We do not need to criminalize women and our medical professionals who would not otherwise be involved in the criminal justice system,” Mears said in a statement. “The Prosecutor’s Office will continue to use its limited resources on addressing violent crime and those that threaten the safety of the public at large.”

Mears was one of more than 90 district attorneys and prosecutors to sign a letter stating he would not enforce abortion bans. The letter from Fair and Just Prosecution—a progressive criminal justice advocacy group—did not contain the names of any other Indiana attorneys or prosecutors.

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8 thoughts on “Bill amendment lets AG step in when local prosecutors won’t enforce law

  1. Todd Rokita want to know what’s happening in your bedroom and your doctor’s office. He’s happiest when he can smear rape-victim children on national entertainment television networks. He dreams of a world where women have no rights, and where he decides if you’re a human or not.

  2. if the job of a prosecutor is to not pick and choose which crimes they go after, maybe this should be broadened to include county sheriffs who’ve decided they can determine which laws and executive orders are “null and void”.

    If Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears is wrong, then so is Hamilton County Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush. Fix both issues.

    1. It’s definitely an interesting question you raise. If we don’t intend to let local prosecutors make local decisions based on local priorities, then what is the purpose of that being a locally decided political office up for election? Mears makes a pretty good argument for prioritizing… as long as we have violent crime to address, maybe we need to focus our limited resources on that rather than trying to criminalize pregnant women and doctors and recreational marijuana users. The people who are outraged by his prioritization are the same people who scream about violent crime in Indianapolis (including here in the IBJ comment section), and also the same people who underfund our local government so that it can’t effectively address everything all at once. But it’s probably too much to expect consistency and logic from the right wing.

    2. Joe with his normal “what about” deflection. Yes, Joe, an executive order mask “mandate” is exactly the same as an abortion law.

    3. Chuck, thanks for proving Steve’s point. If the state wants to remove discretion at the local level, they should do remove it across the board.

      Maybe go read Quakenbush’s statement and get back to me about how it’s not an issue.

      Also, rather ironic that Quakenbush goes on about how the Legislature didn’t go back into session and it was Speaker of the House Todd Huston, a resident of Hamilton County same as Quakenbush, who *repeatedly* refused Eric Holcomb when the Governor offered to call the Legislature into session, and during an entire session refused to take up the resolutions introduced in the House that would have ended the mask mandate immediately.

      The folks upset about the mask mandates should be taking out your anger on Bray and Huston, not Holcomb.

  3. What’s funny is everyone’s party affiliation is mentioned in that article (especially Democrats) EXCEPT Rokita. Are we supposed to just assume that as Chief Pinhead it’s a given he’s a Republican? What about the media/press from other locations reading this? Yes, we all know what a busybody he is, sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, but everyone else?