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Lawmakers start the process to change a portion of the Indiana constitution

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Posted at 10:57 PM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-18 15:12:04-05

INDIANAPOLIS — A change to the Indiana constitution could be up to you. Republicans in the statehouse want to allow judges to deny a defendant's bail if they are considered a risk to the public.

Much debate surrounded the resolution that would make that change the Indiana constitution during the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law committee on Tuesday. People were allowed to testify on Joint Resolution 1.

The resolution would allow Indiana judges to deny a defendant bail if they are considered a considerable risk to the public. This change is something several Indiana prosecutors support.

"SJR 1 is a continuation of the use across the country to try to evaluate the individual and not try to artificially determine bond based upon some random chart, " said Courtney Curtis, the assistant executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

The only circumstances a judge can currently deny someone bail is if they are charged with treason or murder.

"I just want to make sure that I pinpoint that my main concerns with SJR1 is the substantial risk, " said Erica Sanders, who spoke in opposition of the bill.

Sanders runs a non-profit called You Yes You. The organization works with incarcerated fathers to reconnect them with their families and children. It also helps them with re-entry. She is worried a change like this would disproportionately impact the population she works with.

"Again, it's really just the language of the substantial risk — who gets to decide that,” said Sanders. “That just gives judges an enormous amount of power.”

However, those in favor of the bill say that there are already legal avenues for people to request bail if they aren't given the option.

"If someone is charged with murder and they feel the presumption is not strong or the proof is not evident then we have a let to bail hearing, and it is the state burden of proof in that let to bail hearing, “ Curtis said.

Even with legal avenues available, advocates like Sanders say this constitutional change will have a major impact on communities of color.

“The criminal justice system disproportionately affects Black and Brown Americans,” Sanders said. “That would absolutely have a higher effect on them compounded with everything else in the criminal justice system. That just adds another layer to a substantial problem."

The resolution passed out of committee 5 to 3. However, this is the just the first step of a long process.

Two separately elected general assemblies would have to pass this same resolution. Then, Hoosier voters would have the final say.

The earliest you could see this on the ballot would be in 2026.