March 29, 2023

Constitutional amendment to withhold bail from more people narrowly clears House committee

Article origination IPB News
The Indiana Constitution currently requires bail for anyone other than people charged with murder or treason. - FILE PHOTO: Leigh DeNoon/WFYI

The Indiana Constitution currently requires bail for anyone other than people charged with murder or treason.

FILE PHOTO: Leigh DeNoon/WFYI

A House committee narrowly cleared a change Wednesday to the Indiana Constitution to dramatically expand who can be held in jail without bail before trial.

The current Constitution says only people charged with murder or treason can be denied bail. The proposed amendment, SJR 1, says people charged with any crime can be denied bail, as long as they pose a "substantial risk" to another person or the community.

But what does substantial risk mean? That’s the question many opponents of the amendment asked, like Mike Cunningham from the Indiana State Bar Association.

“The 19-year-old kid, your constituent, that’s driving at an unreasonably high rate of speed, a misdemeanor that is reckless driving. If the judge says you pose a substantial risk to the community, you can be held without bail to receive that message," Cunningham said. "Be careful.”

Courtney Curtis, Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council assistant executive director, said the amendment is about balance as the state reforms its pretrial system.

“We don’t want judges to be, kind of, monkeying around with what is the proper amount of money to put forth to keep someone in jail," Curtis said. "If you truly are dangerous, rather than posting a $1 million bond or $500,000 bond or whatever, I’ll just have honesty to the system and say you have no bail. And then, I’m more likely to then release those lower-level people without requiring them to post a $1,000 bond or $2,000 bond.”

READ MORE: Indiana Supreme Court hosts pretrial reform summit

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The proposed amendment was altered by the House committee. Withholding bail would require the state to prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that the person poses that substantial risk.

Vera Institute of Justice associate director Monica Smith said that change does improve the constitutional amendment. But she said it doesn't improve it enough.

There are 22 other states that amended their constitutions to expand bail denial. Smith said the vast majority have more guardrails than Indiana is proposing. That includes more specific definitions of risk and a "more rigorous" due process procedure.

"And 21 out of 22 states establish limitations on which offenses would be eligible for preventative detention," Smith said.

The amendment now goes to the full House. If ultimately approved this session, the General Assembly would need to approve it again in 2025 or 2026 before it would go to the voters for their consideration in the 2026 election.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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