This past week, the Indiana Senate’s Corrections and Criminal Law Committee approved a bill on a 6-3 vote to empower the Indiana Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue local cases after prosecutors have used their lawful discretion to not prosecute certain cases.
This would, in effect, remove local control of our duly elected prosecutors in Indiana and even other areas of county government.
The bill 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 Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The proposal comes after Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, a Democrat, announced in September that he was not going to pursue charges against adults for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana in favor of focusing his office’s efforts on pursuing more violent crimes. In addition, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department has given deputies the discretion of writing tickets for possession of small amounts of marijuana instead of putting these individuals in jail. (It should be noted that Lake County abuts Illinois where recreational marijuana is now legal. We doubt our prosecutors in LaGrange and Steuben counties will take the same approach now that they border Michigan where it also is legal to purchase and possess recreational pot.)
“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,” the AP reported.
Republican Sen. Michael Young of Indianapolis said he was not targeting the action of Mears but was instead trying to stop what he felt was a growing trend across the country where prosecutors have stopped filing charges for certain minor crimes.
“It’s because of the social justice prosecution phenomena that’s going on throughout the country,” Young told Statehouse media. “I wanted to try to head it off in Indiana.”
There is another problem with this proposed legislation, which is on its way to the full Senate for consideration.
If the Attorney General’s office takes over a case in a county and appoints a special prosecutor to handle it because the prosecutor does not, the county could be on the hook for the cost of the prosecution in a case because the local prosecutor chose not to pursue it.
This, in effect, tells a county that it must spend funds it did not appropriate. In other words, it forces county councils to approve funds that were not part of the budget they adopted for a particular year. And this would be difficult to achieve because the law provides that the county auditor must pay the bill from the state within 30 days.
This is worse than the unfunded mandates that often are forced on municipalities by the Legislature.
We would like to think that if the people of a county had elected an individual as their prosecutor, they ultimately would remove that person if they disagreed with how he or she executed the duties of the office.
This bill should go down in defeat, but if it does make it to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk, he should veto it.