June 25, 2014 | 09:15 AM
On July 1, for the first time in more than 35 years, sweeping alterations to Indiana's criminal code will go into effect.
Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk said he believes the changes may be an attempt to decrease the economic blow Indiana takes when more people than necessary reside in prison.
"Obviously, these are tight times financially, not only for individual households, but for state government as well," Schalk said.
Presently, Indiana classifies felony charges by Class A, B, C and D, with Class A being the most severe and Class D the least.
On Tuesday, the classifications change to Level 1 (most severe) through Level 6 (least severe).
"From a logistical standpoint, I have 1,000 or so open cases right now that are still A, B, C, D felonies," Schalk said. "So, next week I have to have a separate filing system for all the new felonies."
The law's design works so that if one were to enter Schalk's office with a burglary complaint from June but a report is filed on July 2, the case would fall under the old lettering system, he said.
Under the old laws, many drug-dealing offenses fall under Class A (20 to 50 years) or Class B (six to 20 years) felonies, Schalk said.
"What was a Class B dealing offense is now (as of July 1) a Level 5 offense and the max is 4-1/2 years," he said. "So, they are drastically reducing the drug-dealing offenses."
Schalk said they have rightfully adjusted the law so punishments for sex crimes have more "heat" to them than nonviolent crimes.
"One of the problems addressed was that under the current law, if someone rapes a woman at knife point, it was, in essence, the same penalty as dealing a pill," he said.
Although the prosecutor agrees sex crimes should come with a greater penalty, Schalk said the law should have increased the severity of sex-crime sentences as opposed to decrease that of drug dealing.
"Generally speaking, everything is being made more lenient than what it previously was, from OWI's to murder," he said. "The public should know that the new laws are basically reducing the overall sentences, but they are getting less credit time."
Presently, those convicted receive day-to-day credit. So, as long as they behave in prison, they only complete 50 percent of their sentence.
Under new law, 75 percent of the sentence must be completed.
Essentially, the law, in most cases, became less strict but those convicted will endure increased severity of punishment.
Milltown Chief Marshal Ray Saylor said he thinks some of the code changes, such as theft laws, which become based on monetary value, will dramatically impact victims.
Thefts under $750 in value will no longer start out as felonies as they did before.
"If a police officer gets a call ... on a theft up to $750, with it being a misdemeanor, the officer, even if the perpetrator is still there, cannot make the arrest because it has to be witnessed," Saylor said.
Instead, he said the officer then has to make a report, file it with the prosecutor, collect evidence and submit it for a warrant. This proves even more difficult if the perpetrator comes from another state.
"It really has slanted the Indiana code in favor of perpetrators instead of victims, and I think that is extremely unfortunate," Saylor said.
For years, Saylor said that people knew, if they stole, the punishment of a felony could be slapped on their record, which might have deterred the act.
Schalk believes the law changes most likely will not effect the occurrence of crimes.
"Generally speaking, when a criminal commits an offense, they are not thinking about what the penalty range for the offense is," Schalk said. "Certainly, sentencing has a deterrent factor to it; that's one of the things that it needs to have. But, from a practical, realistic standpoint, I don't think we are going to see an increase or decrease in crime as a result of this."