During the 2013 Legislative Session, the Indiana General Assembly made sweeping changes to the Indiana Criminal Code, the first of its kind in over 40 years. In an effort to reduce the state’s prison population, the legislature changed the number of felony levels from four to six, changed the lengths of sentences for felonies and lessened the amount of credit time a person serving a sentence can receive.
The new criminal code goes into effect on July 1, 2014. To educate the public about these changes, Rush County Prosecutor Phil Caviness addresses a few of the major changes that will impact citizens of Rush County the most in a two-part series about the criminal code revision.
One of the most significant changes made to the criminal code is of the theft statute.
Under current law, theft of any property belonging to another person is a felony, no matter the value. A person convicted of theft as a felony could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. Under the new law taking effect July 1, theft will be considered a misdemeanor offense unless the item stolen has a value of more than $750, is a firearm, or if the person committing the theft has a previous theft conviction. A person convicted of theft as a misdemeanor could only be sentenced to up to one year in the Rush County Jail. Items with a value over $750, firearms, and thefts committed by repeat offenders will remain felonies.
Caviness explains, “The reduced penalty on theft offenses is going to cause major issues in our county. First off, the likelihood of theft occurring could increase because penalties have been reduced. The difference between three years in state prison and one year in our jail is substantial. Also, it is difficult to determine the value of some items. The legislature has given very little guidance on how to place a value on a stolen item. It may be easy to place a value on an IPad, but it will be very difficult to place a value on someone’s grandmother’s ring, which has a small fair market value but is priceless to the owner. Making theft crimes misdemeanors will also likely cause an increase in our local jail population which is already having overcrowding issues. These are problems which will have to be worked out over time, and there will not be a quick fix.”