INDIANAPOLIS — Prosecutors in Indiana say a small change to a passage in the criminal code allows courts to consider the full weight of out-of-state convictions for high-level felonies at sentencing.
The bill, authored by Rep. Thomas Washburne of Evansville, was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb Monday. It narrows the definition of out-of-state convictions that are treated as Level 6 felonies in Indiana as those for which someone was imprisoned for more than one year but less than two-and-a-half years.
The passage in the Indiana code deals with habitual offender sentence enhancements, which cannot be based on prior unrelated Level 6 felony convictions alone. It previously did not include the two-and-a-half-year cap in its definition, effectively allowing all out-of-state convictions, including those as serious as murder or Level 1 felony, to be considered Level 6 felonies in Indiana.
The Indiana Supreme Court reversed a man’s habitual offender enhancement in December because his two prior Illinois convictions were statutorily considered Level 6 felonies, disqualifying the enhancement, according to the publication The Indiana Lawyer. Darryl Calvin’s six-year sentence for the burglary of a Fort Wayne home, a Level 4 felony, and his additional 10 years for an habitual offender enhancement had been upheld by the Indiana Appeals Court on the grounds that his reading of the code “would lead to absurd results,” according to the publication.
Washburne wrote his bill in response to the state supreme court decision in order to clean up the language in the code.
Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney Vicki Becker indicated that she’s familiar with the problem Washburne wanted to address.
“This was a significant issue that restrained our ability to hold repeat offenders accountable at a fair level,” she said Tuesday. “However, now that the legislation has become official, it closes that loophole for offenders who had convictions from outside Indiana.”
The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council announced the bill’s signing. Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said in the announcement that he’s grateful IPAC could work with the General Assembly and Holcomb to change the law in a way that helps prosecutors in Indiana hold repeat felony offenders accountable.
“This change will help prosecutors to keep our communities safe by giving us a tool we can use to seek enhanced sentences when we encounter defendants whose criminal history extends outside of Indiana,” he said.
Hendricks County Prosecutor Patricia Baldwin thanked Holcomb for his support, as well as the bill’s House authors and Senate sponsors, which also included Rep. Ryan Dvorak and Sens. Eric Koch and Joseph Zakas.
“This bill makes clear when we can use prior convictions for murder and other violent offenses to appropriately sentence repeat offenders when their prior criminal activity was out of state,” Baldwin said in the announcement.