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10/10/2017 6:09:00 PM
Indiana senator wants to ratchet up state drug crime sentences

Dan Carden, Times of Northwest Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS — State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, will ask the General Assembly in January to jack up penalties for some drug-related crimes and expand mandatory minimum sentencing.

Just three years ago, Hoosier lawmakers adjusted drug crime penalties to target high-level dealers, while increasing treatment opportunities for drug users and also giving judges discretion to fashion sentences appropriate to each individual.

Merritt declared Tuesday "that was a different time" and "we need to readjust." 

He believes Indiana's courts have "broken-down" in punishing serious and violent felons, and the only way to fix it is by increasing penalties so prosecutors have more leverage in plea bargain negotiations.

"I'm empowering prosecutors, and I think that is what we need to do because it's not working right now," Merritt said.

Under his plan, the details of which still are being finalized, drug crimes involving the opioid drug fentanyl or illegal drug sales that result in a user's death would be subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term. 

In addition, criminal sentences for armed robbery no longer could be partially suspended to probation, and the penalty for attacking an off-duty police officer, or a member of the officer's family, would match the penalty for battery against an on-duty officer.

"We mean business on this," Merritt said. "We want our citizens safe, we want our law enforcement safe, we want to save lives."

Merritt's proposals face an uncertain fate as state lawmakers generally have resisted efforts to increase criminal penalties following the 2014 criminal code reforms to give the changes time to filter through Indiana's police departments, courtrooms and prisons.

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