Where to start?
Despite opposition from nearly all of the organizations and individuals who testified, a bill that would allow the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor over certain cases that a local prosecutor declines to prosecute has advanced out of an Indiana Senate committee.
Senate Bill 436, authored by Rep. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, passed out of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee on Tuesday with a 6-3 vote. Young, who chairs the committee, did not receive any Democratic support for his bill, and one Republican also voted against the measure.
Calling the legislation a response to “social justice prosecuting,” Young said his bill would allow the Office of the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor only if a local elected prosecutor “has announced as a matter of policy that the prosecuting attorney will not enforce all or part of a criminal statute enacted by the General Assembly,” or if “the attorney general has determined that a prosecuting attorney has categorically elected not to enforce all or part of a criminal statute enacted by the General Assembly.”
Mike Young’s sponsorship is the first clue that this is a terrible bill; Young has spent his considerable amount of time in Indiana’s legislature as a committed “culture warrior” and general pain in the you-know-where. The second clue comes from the fact that every single person who testified at the committee hearing opposed the measure.
Organizations ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC) were among those testifying against SB 436.
The former director of IPAC shared the organization’s opposition to the bill’s attack on prosecutorial discretion, pointing out that voters regularly respond to prosecutorial decisions they don’t agree with by voting elected prosecutors out of office. (Every four years, voters eject around a third of Indiana’s prosecutors.) A representative of the Public Defenders Council agreed that the bill abrogated voters’ rights.
What prompted this legislative over-reach?
Much of Wednesday’s testimony focused on the recent decision by Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears to no longer prosecute cases of simple possession of marijuana. In announcing that decision in September — about a week before he was appointed by county Democrats to succeed former Prosecutor Terry Curry — Mears said the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office should be devoting its resources to the violent crime in Indianapolis.
Young’s bill would deny county prosecutors the discretion to direct limited resources to the most serious threats to public safety. Once again, it would substitute the judgements of state-level lawmakers for those of local officials chosen by the people they serve.
One of the measure’s most egregious insults to local control was language requiring counties in which the attorney general has overruled the local prosecutor to reimburse the attorney general for the expenses of prosecuting the case. As Doug Masson put it in his blog post on the bill,
The guest that nobody invited and nobody wanted is going to send you a bill for his presence. The AG just sends the bill to the Auditor who is required to pay the bill out of the general fund within 30 days, without appropriation. Because, screw your budget.
Despite the uniform opposition to the bill, it passed out of committee. Here is the vote breakdown:
Sen. Mike Young
Sen. Susan Glick
Sen. Mike Bohacek
Sen. Justin Busch
Sen. Aaron Freeman
Sen. Jack Sandlin
Sen. Karen Tallian
Sen. Lonnie Randolph
Sen. Eric Koch
If one of the “yeas” represents you, I’d suggest a call or email letting that person know that he or she should not rely on your vote in the next election.