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Senate bill that would allow state attorney general to intervene at county level advances

The Senate Committee on Judiciary passed Senate Bill 165 on a 7-3 vote Wednesday.
Lauren Chapman/IPB News
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The Senate Committee on Judiciary passed Senate Bill 165 on a 7-3 vote Wednesday.

A senate bill that would give the Indiana Attorney General power to intervene with a county prosecutor’s decision advanced Wednesday.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary passed Senate Bill 165 on a 7-3 vote. Under the bill, the attorney general could request an outside special prosecutor be appointed if a county prosecutor refused to “categorically” prosecute certain crimes.

The bill’s author, Sen. Michael Young (R-Indianapolis), said county prosecutors must enforce the state’s laws, even if they don’t agree with them.

“There's a movement across the country where prosecutors think they have a right not to prosecute,” Young said.

Members of the committee referenced Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ decision to not prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases. Young emphasized that the bill has been in the works since before Mears took office in 2019.

That same year, Mears announced he would not charge individuals found in possession or less than one ounce of marijuana.

READ MORE:Marion County Prosecutor Explains Marijuana Possession Policy

Young said he is concerned about “social justice prosecutors” nationwide who are deciding to not prosecute certain crimes.

Several people spoke in opposition of the bill, and said it infringes on the county prosecutors’ discretion.

Michael Moore, assistant executive director of the Indiana Public Defenders Council, said county prosecutors do what they think is best for their local community, and this bill could override that.

“This is an overreach of the state legislature, crossing into the separation of state level versus local level decision making,” Moore said.

Moore said the Marion County Prosecutor’s office decided not to prosecute the marijuana cases because they disproportionately impacted people of color and are not considered a cause of violent crime.

Mears did not testify at the hearing and did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening on the committee’s vote.

The bill will move to a second reading in the Senate.

Contact WFYI criminal justice reporter Katrina Pross at kpross@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @katrina_pross.

Pross is a Corps Member of Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Copyright 2022 WFYI Public Radio. To see more, visit WFYI Public Radio.