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.