Indiana Republicans aiming to force marijuana prosecutions

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.

Posted: Jan 28, 2020 3:34 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — 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.

Republican Sen. Michael Young, of Indianapolis, said his proposal wasn’t just about Mears’ action and 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.”

Republican 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 now goes to the full Senate for consideration, opens the door to “a political circus” and leaves questions about prosecutors quietly decide against charging some crimes, said Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian of 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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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1112735

Reported Deaths: 17652
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1450832237
Lake721711247
Allen66684881
Hamilton50838487
St. Joseph49493645
Elkhart40079546
Vanderburgh34553496
Tippecanoe30654274
Johnson27559465
Hendricks26181383
Porter25556386
Madison21002452
Clark20146278
Vigo18966309
LaPorte17115261
Delaware16666300
Howard16666313
Monroe16556220
Kosciusko14216167
Hancock13061185
Bartholomew12894190
Warrick12152190
Wayne12036268
Floyd11968226
Grant11901242
Morgan10360192
Boone9815122
Noble9234122
Henry9142167
Marshall9062147
Dearborn8923100
Dubois8815139
Shelby8210129
Cass8134127
Lawrence8018185
DeKalb7761108
Jackson764093
Huntington7601113
Gibson7074118
Montgomery7052123
Harrison6923100
Knox6896115
Steuben665889
Miami6563111
Whitley655360
Putnam641584
Clinton624579
Wabash6182111
Jasper610892
Jefferson5796104
Ripley555893
Adams540581
Daviess5062117
Scott488280
Wells4814104
White475669
Greene4680100
Clay462862
Decatur4597110
Jennings448867
Fayette448396
LaGrange425990
Posey407544
Randolph3908107
Washington389856
Fountain373464
Fulton362474
Spencer360747
Starke353574
Owen351277
Sullivan347554
Orange329172
Jay328850
Rush306832
Carroll294239
Franklin290844
Perry288553
Vermillion282758
Tipton250066
Parke249630
Pike247244
Blackford221244
Pulaski208559
Newton181752
Brown176150
Crawford168829
Benton166517
Martin151820
Switzerland147212
Warren135316
Union121016
Ohio92113
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