INDIANAPOLIS — How much time thieves spend in Indiana jails now depends on the value of what they steal.
Under a new law, judges have more flexibility to send low-level offenders to work-release or home detention instead of prison. For example, theft of items worth less than $750 is a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year penalty whereas it used to be a low-level felony that could send the perpetrator to prison for 2 ½ years.
The change that went into effect Tuesday is part of a three-year overhaul of the Indiana Criminal Code by legislators that expands the former four levels of felonies to six levels.
Indiana Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, supported the overhaul, but doesn't like all its pieces.
"Thieves don't go appraise the object before they steal it. They just go steal it," Head told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1iZ2gob ). "So if I'm a thief, based on nothing to do with me, the dollar amount is saying I'm a felon or I'm not one. . In the end, the thieves get the break."
David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said the law gives police and prosecutors more options.
"You should put the trust in your law enforcement officers and the prosecution," Powell said. "We've made that argument all during 2013, and we continue to in 2014."
Powell also said the new code doesn't adequately take criminal history into account. Even if someone was a convicted burglar or drug dealer, theft would still be a misdemeanor if the stolen item's value is under $750. The law makes theft under $750 a felony for repeat offenders, but only if their prior conviction is for theft or criminal conversion, he said.
Powell said he would like to see legislators take up the theft penalty again during the next session, but Head said that's unlikely.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com