Acchiardo explains changes to Indiana’s criminal code

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Revisions will mean higher costs to county

Managing Editor

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part report.

TELL CITY – Calling it “a momentous time in Indiana criminal-law history,” County Prosecutor Rod Acchiardo provided training to local law-enforcement officers May 19 on changes to the Indiana Criminal Code.

It was in 1977 that “the last major revamp” was done, he said, explaining he had 500-plus-page copies of the affected sections available for any law-enforcement agency.
Further refinements may come during a June 20 meeting of the legislature, he said in beginning a presentation in a training room at the Tell City Police Department.

The changes, which will go into effect July 1, arose from a review that began in 2008, Acchiardo said.

The Indiana Department of Correction initiated the changes based on concerns about their populations and financial considerations after a report was issued that said Indiana’s numbers were out of line with those of neighboring states, he explained. Increased judges’ discretion in sentencing and prosecutors’ desires for truth in sentencing were also objectives of the revision.

The latter issue means “when somebody gets 20 years, we want them to get 20 years, or as close to that as possible, at least for the more serious offenses,” Acchiardo said. “Today that’s not happening. Today they get half the time or less with some of the other time cuts. With the more serious felonies, that’s not going to happen anymore. They’re going to do 75 percent … actually, under the new code, for more serious crimes like murder … you’re going to do more actual time than you do now.”

Improving public safety and reducing recidivism were among goals of the changes, as was freeing up prison space by pushing more nonviolent offenders, such as those convicted of simple drug-possession charges, for example, into local community-corrections and rehabilitation programs.

Under current law, a judge has to explain why he or she imposes a certain sentence, the prosecutor said. That requirement will disappear, with judges able to consider all circumstances related to an offense.

“The majority of the felonies are going to remain the same as under the old code,” Acchiardo said, while some were moved into “levels.”

“Approximately 90 felony penalties were actually decreased to some degree, for drug crimes and property crimes,” he continued. “Approximately 30 felony penalties were increased,” including sex crimes, arson and crimes of violence like murder. For those convicted of murder, the penalty will remain 45 to 65 years, “but you will actually do more time.” Now someone sentenced to the maximum can get out at 27-and-a-half years under the 50-percent rule. The new rule will have them serve a minimum of nearly 34 years if they get the minimum sentence.

The changes will shift costs to the local level, Acchiardo also said. That will cost an estimated $10.5 million annually statewide, and $11 million has been made initially available by the legislature, and he’s not sure that will be adequate.

“Being a smaller county, will we have more difficulties than Marion County or Vanderburgh County in getting the funding we need? That I don’t know,” he said. Local agencies will have to apply for funding through a voucher program, and programs will have to be pre-approved and certified by state agencies, and “in order to be certified, you have to have qualified people in place,” the prosecutor said. “Programs will be measured and future funding will depend on their ability to reduce recidivism.”

Local legislators are encouraged to appropriate funding, he continued. “I’ve already spoken with Judge (Lucy) Goffinet. She’s met with some of our local legislators on this and it’s up in the air as to what they’re able to do. So we’ll just have to wait and see how that’s going to shake out.”

More low-level substance-abuse offenders will undergo treatment locally, Acchiardo said, noting, “there’s a statewide shortage of mental-health and substance-abuse treatment providers; we can attest to that here in Perry County and around this area. It’s hard to find places, especially for mental health. Increased local funding for mental illness and substance abuse will be necessary to reduce recidivism. That’s stating the obvious, I think.” His discussion so far provided an overview, he said. Coming next would be more-specific information, which will be reported in an upcoming edition.