INDIANAPOLIS — A Republican-backed bill moving forward at the Indiana Statehouse would give a board of prosecutors oversight over their peers.
Senate Bill 284 originally focused on “noncompliant” prosecuting attorneys, or those who declined to prosecute violations of the law. After being amended by a House committee this week, it would now allow the board to decide if a special prosecutor is needed in any situation.
State Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis), a former deputy prosecutor, is leading efforts to pass the legislation.
“You can’t not enforce the law and then expect people to follow other laws,” Freeman said.
Freeman and other lawmakers who have supported the legislation have been critical of Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, a Democrat. In 2019, Mears announced he would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana possession.
“This issue is not going to stop in one county,” Freeman said. “You see it around the country.”
Under the bill, the three-person board would not have more than two members from the same political party.
For the past few years, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council opposed similar bills but supports the current legislation. Courtney Curtis, the group’s assistant executive director, told lawmakers this week it could be used in situations when a prosecutor won’t enforce the law or when a local prosecutor needs more resources.
“If you have an enormous case that’s going to overwhelm the function of your office, I as an elected [official] if I were one retain jurisdiction,” Curtis said. “I’m just asking you to come help me because I can’t handle the case due to the size of my office.”
The bill passed in the Senate along party lines, with Democrats voting in opposition.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said he doesn’t see much improvement with the House amendment.
“The changes that I saw also gives this board, this panel, the ability to question anything a prosecutor does in any jurisdiction in the state of Indiana,” Taylor said.
Taylor argues prosecutors should be allowed to decide what’s best for their communities. But he questions whether the proposed board would follow through with any kind of enforcement action.
“This is now going to pit prosecutor against prosecutor, and when is that ever going to happen?” Taylor said. “I don’t see it happening.”
The House Courts and Criminal Code committee passed the bill along party lines. Since the proposal requires state funding, it now heads to the House Ways and Means committee.
We reached out to Mears for this story. A spokesperson told us he was unavailable for an interview.