Tag Archives: prosecutorial discretion

Indiana’s Supermajority–Ignoring Citizens Again

Where to start?

The Indiana Lawyer describes the issue: 

Despite opposition from nearly all of the organizations and individuals who testified, a bill that would allow the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor over certain cases that a local prosecutor declines to prosecute has advanced out of an Indiana Senate committee.

Senate Bill 436, authored by Rep. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, passed out of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee on Tuesday with a 6-3 vote. Young, who chairs the committee, did not receive any Democratic support for his bill, and one Republican also voted against the measure.

Calling the legislation a response to “social justice prosecuting,” Young said his bill would allow the Office of the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor only if a local elected prosecutor “has announced as a matter of policy that the prosecuting attorney will not enforce all or part of a criminal statute enacted by the General Assembly,” or if “the attorney general has determined that a prosecuting attorney has categorically elected not to enforce all or part of a criminal statute enacted by the General Assembly.”

Mike Young’s sponsorship is the first clue that this is a terrible bill; Young has spent his considerable amount of time in Indiana’s legislature as a committed “culture warrior” and general pain in the you-know-where. The second clue comes from the fact that every single person who testified at the committee hearing opposed the measure.

Organizations ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC) were among those testifying against SB 436.

The former director of IPAC shared the organization’s opposition to the bill’s attack on prosecutorial discretion, pointing out that voters regularly respond to prosecutorial decisions they don’t agree with by voting elected prosecutors out of office. (Every four years, voters eject around a third of Indiana’s prosecutors.) A representative of the Public Defenders Council agreed that the bill abrogated voters’ rights.

What prompted this legislative over-reach?

Much of Wednesday’s testimony focused on the recent decision by Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears to no longer prosecute cases of simple possession of marijuana. In announcing that decision in September — about a week before he was appointed by county Democrats to succeed former Prosecutor Terry Curry — Mears said the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office should be devoting its resources to the violent crime in Indianapolis.

Young’s bill would deny county prosecutors the discretion to direct limited resources to the most serious threats to public safety. Once again, it would substitute the judgements of state-level lawmakers for those of local officials chosen by the people they serve.

One of the measure’s most egregious insults to local control was language requiring  counties in which the attorney general has overruled the local prosecutor to reimburse the attorney general for the expenses of prosecuting the case. As Doug Masson put it in his blog post on the bill,

The guest that nobody invited and nobody wanted is going to send you a bill for his presence. The AG just sends the bill to the Auditor who is required to pay the bill out of the general fund within 30 days, without appropriation. Because, screw your budget.

Despite the uniform opposition to the bill, it passed out of committee. Here is the vote breakdown:

Sen. Mike Young
Sen. Susan Glick
Sen. Mike Bohacek
Sen. Justin Busch
Sen. Aaron Freeman
Sen. Jack Sandlin

Sen. Karen Tallian
Sen. Lonnie Randolph
Sen. Eric Koch

If one of the “yeas” represents you, I’d suggest a call or email letting that person know that he or she should not rely on your vote in the next election.

Rallying for a Plea Bargain

Update. Since posting this, I’ve been informed that the purpose of the Rally is to argue for dismissal of the charges–not a plea bargain. Bei Bei takes the (eminently reasonable) position that she should not be branded a felon. As one of the commenters has pointed out, this is the sort of case that does a real disservice to the cause of both criminal justice and mental health, by conflating the two. Did this young woman make a very bad decision? Yes. Did that decision harm both her and her unborn child? Yes. But those facts , without more, do not suffice to prove a crime. 



The case of Bei Bei–the young Asian woman who is being prosecuted for murdering her unborn baby–raises a number of questions.

The facts that are known are relatively simple: A young woman, pregnant and deserted by her lover, took rat poison in an apparent suicide attempt. She left a note for the faithless lover, saying she was killing herself and their child. She lived, but her baby died. The prosecutor charged her with murder, and refused to reconsider that charge even after an expert witness testified in a hearing that the still birth of the baby could not be proved to have been a result of the poison.

The case has become a high-profile cause for womens’ rights groups, who have (correctly, in my view) pointed out that a prosecution on these facts runs the risk of “criminalizing pregnancy,” and setting a dangerous precedent; it threatens to identify pregnant women as a separate and unequal class of citizen and to discourage pregnant women from seeking health care for depression or drug addiction.  They have held rallies in an effort to pressure the prosecutor into dropping the case, or at least plea bargaining for a lesser charge.

This Saturday, at the City Market at two, there will be another rally.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about this case, which has become a very high-profile debate about both the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and the propriety of conducting a criminal defense in the media.

I have a lot of respect for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, but–unless he knows something about the facts of this case that he has not revealed–I can’t understand his decision to spend public resources pursuing this case. The purpose of the criminal justice system is public safety. (I know that a good portion of the electorate prefers a different, more punitive approach–make the bad guys suffer!–but the Indiana Constitution sets a more measured goal.) This young woman presents no threat to the public. She is highly unlikely to be a repeat offender. She’s a troubled individual who made a very bad choice; is punishing that bad choice really where we want to spend our officials’ time and the public’s money?

It is unfortunate that this case has been so highly publicized; perhaps if the media had paid less attention to it, the prosecution would have felt more comfortable resolving it short of trial. But here we are. So the national organizations that have come to Bei Bei’s defense have announced Saturday’s rally, presumably in hopes of pressuring the prosecutor to reconsider. I think it is more likely that the additional publicity will simply harden his resolve, but I recognize the need to draw public attention to the policy question that is at the heart of this case: how should the prosecutor exercise his discretion?

What makes us safe?