The Indiana Legislature has enacted sweeping new sentencing laws for criminal cases that take effect July 1 of this year. Crimes committed before July 1, 2014, will be prosecuted and sentenced under the existing Indiana laws, but any crimes committed after June 30 will fall under the new sentencing scheme.
Until now, felonies fell under a sentencing structure of Class A through D Felonies, with Class A being the most severe and Class D being the least. Effective July 1, there will be six levels of felonies in Indiana instead of four, with Level 1 being the most severe and Level 6 the least.
According to Rush County Prosecutor Phil Caviness, some of the most drastic changes in the laws have been to those relating to the illegal possession and dealing of drugs. As an example, Dealing Cocaine has been a Class B Felony, punishable by six to 20 years in prison. Now, Caviness said, that same Dealing Cocaine activity will be a Level 5 felony, punishable by only one to six years in prison.
“Most of the criminal drug statutes have been changed to reduce the length of sentences drug offenders can receive. In the past, there was a wide range of potential sentences available, and it was up to judges, and to a lesser extent, prosecutors, to decide what those sentence could be,” Caviness noted.
Caviness said the rationale for these new changes from the legislature is prison costs and overcrowding, largely due to the number of drug offenders in our prison system.
“They say no one wants to spend taxpayer money on housing prisoners, building new facilities, or paying for drug treatment programs, so basically they are going to limit the sentences drug offenders and other criminals can receive to reduce the prison population.”
Caviness added that “here in Rush County, we have a new Community Corrections program that serves many of our drug offenders, providing monitored home detention, drug testing and treatment, and other services for offenders that give them opportunities to be productive and stay out of prison. Historically, Rush County Judges and prosecutors aren’t known for handing out maximum sentences on every drug case, and we reserve the harshest sentences for our worst offenders. Apparently other counties haven’t acted the way we do and now even the worst offenders will have shorter sentences and less incentive to stop selling drugs in our community.”
The Prosecutor ended by saying that he anticipates that some criminals will commit more crimes knowing that their punishment will be lighter than before, but emphasized that local law enforcement and the Rush County Prosecutor’s Office are prepared to work hard to catch and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.