Measure aimed at forcing marijuana prosecutions advances

Indiana Statehouse (IBJ file photo)

Republican legislators agitated with an Indianapolis prosecutor’s refusal to press charges for possessing small amounts of marijuana are seeking to empower the state attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to take over such cases.

An Indiana Senate committee endorsed a bill Tuesday on a 6-3 vote that would let the attorney general’s office step in if a county prosecutor announced a policy of not enforcing a law or was found to have “categorically elected” to not do so.

The proposal comes after Democratic Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears announced in September that his office wouldn’t pursue charges against adults for possessing about 1 ounce or less of marijuana, saying the office would focus on prosecuting violent crimes. Since then, officials in northwestern Indiana’s Lake County started considering whether to give sheriff’s deputies the discretion to write a $50 to $250 ticket for small levels of marijuana, instead of taking someone to jail.

Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, said his proposal wasn’t just about Mears’ action and he pointed to decisions by prosecutors in Boston and San Francisco to not stop pressing charges in cases such as trespassing, disorderly conduct or prostitution.

“It’s because of the social justice prosecution phenomena that’s going on throughout the country,” Young said. “I wanted to try to head it off in Indiana.”

Attorney General Curtis Hill and most GOP legislators are firmly against marijuana legalization as has happened in Michigan and Illinois. Parvonay Stover, the attorney general’s government affairs director, told the committee the office believed prosecutors should make charging decisions on a case-by-case basis and respect the Legislature’s decisions on making something a crime.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council argued the bill wrongly usurped the discretion that county prosecutors must have about how to use their staff and budgets on which cases to pursue.

David Powell, the council’s former executive director, said prosecutors must make tough decisions such as he did in filing three death penalty cases in his 20 years as a local prosecutor.

“I know of (prosecutors) that would never file the death penalty because they don’t believe in it,” Powell said. “So, should they be removed from office?”

The bill, which goes to the full Senate for consideration, opens the door to “a political circus” and leaves questions about prosecutors quietly deciding against charging some crimes, said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Odgen Dunes, who has long advocated for marijuana legalization.

“I think one of the things this bill will do is to encourage prosecutors to do something and not make it transparent,” Tallian said.

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4 thoughts on “Measure aimed at forcing marijuana prosecutions advances

  1. “It’s because of the social justice prosecution phenomena that’s going on throughout the country,” Young said. “I wanted to try to head it off in Indiana.”

    So there isn’t a rational reason for this other than Young getting his feelings hurt over something that doesn’t impact him at all. Possession arrests and convictions are disproportionately brought upon POC and low-income populations. This is explicitly designed to screw them over on a case-by-case basis.

    1. I interpreted his comment differently. Not necessarily correctly, but differently. I agree that there is a disproportionate effect on people of color. And that issue is much more complex than the enforcement of current law. What I took from the article is that as a society, we are witnessing a growing number of prosecutors across the country disregard the laws of their state (or federal) legislatures and substitute their own social agenda. I advocate for changing the law if it needs changing, always, and seldom for the disregarding of current enacted law for convenience. It is after all, why we have laws. if laws are enacted but not enforced, who determines which ones will and which ones won’t be enforced? The local prosecutor, individual police officers, local judges? And what happens when administrations change? Imagine a current prosecutor chooses not to enforce possession, but his successor does. So for the same offense, two months apart, two individuals would face entirely different consequences. What is the “correct” penalty for possession? Is it incarceration, a fine of $50 or $250 or no penalty at all? While I have an opinion, I don’t know that answer. But until the people, through their elected legislature change the current law, it seems that it ought to be what the law currently states.

      In this case, we are talking about marijuana possession, but the issue also includes enforcement of immigration law, trespassing and public health laws. With the recent legalization of recreational use of marijuana in bordering states of Illinois and Michigan, we should anticipate an increase in the illegal use in Indiana due to its proximity and easy access.

      I don’t know Mike Young, so my opinion is not based on my like or dislike of him. I’m in no position to judge his motivation and not qualified to judge his character. I simply share my thoughts and my views.

  2. Prosecutorial judgment has always been a factor in who they bring charges against. Having the State act as a second-guesser removes the authority of county prosecutors and sets up the chance for politicization and retaliation. This would create the ability for the State to pursue charges against someone even if the prosecutor doesn’t think there’s a case. AG Hill should be cautious from his own history, where Marion County didn’t bring charges against his groping but with this law, the State could step in and bring them, citing their belief that the prosecutor isn’t following the law.

    Prosecutorial judgment also favors better rehabilitation of offenders so that they aren’t pulled further into the criminal justice system and rather can get their lives back on track. I listened to a story of a prosecutor who had a case of a teen who had stolen several laptops from Best Buy (I can’t remember if he was an employee or not). Instead of charging him and pulling him into the system, the prosecutor worked out a deal with Best Buy that the teen would repay the loss and perform community service. The teen indeed did get his life on track, and graduated college (and of course became a tax-paying citizen, a benefit rather than a drain on the system). My point being, if a prosecutor is able to use their brain and understand the shades of grey, we can work to avert the start of a criminal career and hope to get them back on track.

  3. Amazing how this bill can rapidly advance out of committee, when any and all cannabis related bills are refused to even be heard in committee! Our legislators have certain agendas and priorities, and they remain in FEAR of anything cannabis, and in fear of anything not approved by them. This particular bill by Senator Young also seems to smell of super majority republican politics, all in an effort to try and override a local democrat prosecutor!…in other words, we’ll show you who’s boss!

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