ELKHART — A number of new state laws that directly impact criminal justice go into effect Monday.

The majority of bills passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb become law on July 1. Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney Vicki Becker on Friday highlighted several new laws that will have an impact on criminal justice, her office and the community.

Senate Enrolled Act 551 makes a number of changes to criminal laws where children and other family members are the victim. It allows parents to seek a protective order against a person they believe is grooming their child for sexual activity and creates a provision so crime victims are identified by a number rather than their initials in court documents, according to information from Becker.

The bill creates enhancements for domestic battery charges that involve strangulation, which Becker said is one of the fastest rising charges that prosecutors are seeing statewide and often a precursor to more violent acts in the future. It also creates enhancements for crimes such as kidnapping if they cause moderate injury to the victim.

The bill also provides that if a child under 16 years old is summoned to testify as a witness in any criminal matter, they are allowed to have a comfort item or comfort animal while testifying. 

House Enrolled Act 1186 allows prosecutors to charge the abuse and trafficking of a synthetic drug as the drug it is designed to mimic. For instance, synthetic drugs designed to act like heroin will be charged at the same level as possessing and dealing heroin itself, Becker said.

SEA 186 makes a number of changes to traffic crimes. It enhances the crime of causing a death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated to be a Level 4 felony rather than a Level 5, which doubles the maximum potential punishment from six years to 12.

It also makes the crime of OWI causing serious injury a Level 5 felony and creates a sentencing enhancement for “catastrophic injury,” according to Becker. It increases the felony level of a number of other traffic crimes, such as OWI or leaving the scene of an accident, when they result in death, catastrophic injury or serious injury.

SEA 240 deals with terrorism and intimidation, particularly threats to schools and school buildings. It expands the intimidation statute to include threats made to any person that puts that person in fear that the threat will be carried out, and enhances the penalty for intimidation if the threat relates to a person’s occupation.

The hope is that this bill will make it easier for prosecutors to charge those who make bomb or shooting threats to schools, Becker said.

The law also enhances crimes such as harboring a person who has committed a terrorist act or providing material support to a terrorist, especially if it includes the commission of a felony or if the act of terrorism is likely to cause serious injury to someone. 

SEA 198 was the much-discussed bias crimes bill. The new law makes it an aggravating circumstance if a crime was committed due to the perceived or actual characteristics, traits, beliefs, practices or associations of the victim, including color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.

A judge would decide at sentencing if it is appropriate to apply this aggravator, according to Becker.

HEA 1615 broadens language in the animal abuse statutes to make it easier to charge offenses related to animals.

SEA 243 creates a new crime for distributing an intimate image of another person without that person’s consent. If proven, the non-consensual distribution would result in a Class A misdemeanor charge, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

Becker noted that these are just a few of hundreds of new laws that will take effect Monday. Visit www.iga.in.gov/legislative/2019/bills for a complete list.

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