Indiana proposal would expand reasons for denying bail

(photo supplied / Times-Union)

INDIANAPOLIS –Some Hoosier lawmakers want to set new limits on which criminals have the right to bail.

A resolution passed the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law committee Tuesday. Much of the support for it came from Republicans. It states that “a person who poses a substantial risk to the public is not entitled to release on bail.”

As it stands now, Indiana’s constitution only denies bail to those accused of murder or treason. It requires judges to offer bail in all other situations. The resolution was written by Senators Eric Koch, Rodric Bray, and Aaron Freeman.

“There are actually 31 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government where defendants of certain crimes do not have an express right to bail. We are in the minority,” said Koch (R-Bedford).

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council wants it to become law.

“All we’re doing is adding a few words. If the court determines that this is an individual who is potentially a substantial risk to the public, we’ll have the same type of hearing we normally have,” said Courtney Curtis, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council Executive Director.

Opponents of the proposal raised concerns about what they call the resolution’s subjectivity and vagueness about who a judge may consider a public safety risk.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, the leader of the Senate Democratic caucus, said he worried the legislation would be used against minorities.

“My hesitation is … when laws change and there are subjective opinions that are allowed to restrict a person’s freedom, for some reason, the people that look like me end up being on the short end of the stick,” said Taylor.

Other critics of the resolution like Ericka Sanders, who started the Indianapolis nonprofit You Yes You Project, said it could paint people who have smaller crimes in a bad light and lump them in with more violent criminals. That project does a lot of work with incarcerated men.

“The fathers in You Yes You, this would affect all of them simply based on the grounds of that they all have a criminal background,” said Sanders.

The resolution’s supporters said they don’t foresee any misuse among the judicial system.

“There’s not a judge in Indiana who’s going to hold somebody without bail on a (low-level) misdemeanor,” said Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis.

To become law, it would have to go through two General Assemblies and a voter referendum before being amended into the state’s Constitution. The soonest voters would consider the proposal would be November 2026.

Next, the resolution will be reviewed by the full Senate.