On July 1, a host of new laws crafted by the Indiana legislature took hold, bolstering the tools at prosecutors’ disposal.
From the implementation of a revenge porn crime to the bias crimes bill and the ability for parents to seek protective orders if they believe their child is being groomed for sexual activity, multiple new crimes or aggravators now are codified in state law.
Perhaps the most substantive change, according to Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann, was the law implemented by Senate Enrolled Act 243, otherwise known as the revenge porn law. That act created a new crime for “distributing an intimate image of another person without that person’s consent.” McCann said that, before July 1, his office commonly received complaints of such behavior, but without a specific criminal statute in place, prosecutorial action was difficult.
“There’s a lot of that going on, and we would get complaints about that. And there really wasn’t anything to be done about that … unless it was distribution involving a child, but this would apply to anyone for non-consensual distribution, especially in divorces and breakups, even in young adults that would prohibit the prosecution. That’s probably one that caught my eye more than anything. It creates a crime or right for a person that is incurring a violation of privacy.”
Before the new law went into effect, prosecutors could try to deal with instances where intimate images were being shared without consent with other crimes such as intimidation or harassment, said McCann. However, such crimes held different thresholds to reach the level of criminal activity.
Now the new law is more specific and allows prosecutors to level a class A misdemeanor at those who disseminate revenge porn. The charge can net offenders a sentence of up to a year in jail. McCann noted the new statute could be a powerful tool in the social media age.
Another much-discussed law taking effect this month was implemented by way of Senate Enrolled Act 198. That legislative action implements the bias, or hate, crimes law.
While the new law doesn’t represent a specific criminal charge, it allows judges to take into consideration aggravating circumstances in a crime, such as if it was committed due to the “perceived or actual characteristics, traits, beliefs, practices, or associations of the victim, including but not limited to the color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation,” according to a release from the prosecutor’s office. If such factors are presented during a criminal proceeding, a judge could enhance a sentence.
During the last legislative session, Gov. Eric Holcomb came out in support of such a law change, and vigorous debate ensued over the law’s language as well as its potential impact since judges already could take such factors into consideration during sentencing. However, proponents of the bill argued that the law, prior to the bill’s implementation, didn’t specifically list the factors presented in the new law.
McCann said it’s unclear whether the bias crimes bill will substantially influence criminal cases.
“Whether it needs to be codified as law, obviously the legislators thought this needed to rise to that level, but I think here it is making a statutory aggravator, so it’s clear,” said McCann. “I don’t think the new bill necessarily changed anything; it just gave the judge another tool, and the prosecutor, to argue, ‘Look, this is a statutory aggravator, and this applies to this situation in addition to the other statutory mitigators.’”
Another new law highlighted by McCann was Senate Enrolled Act 551, which allowed parents to “seek a protective order against a person they believe is grooming their child for sexual activity.” The new law also creates enhancements for domestic battery charges involving strangulation, which a release from McCann’s office noted was “one of the fastest-rising charges that prosecutors are seeing statewide and is often a precursor to more violent acts in the future.”
The portion relating to parents seeking protective orders, said McCann, fills in a gap in existing law.
“It’s kind of like stalking,” said McCann. “Under the protective order statute there are limitations on who you can seek a protective order against. So, they have to prove a pattern of staking … There was a kind of tight requirement for who could seek a protective order. Protective orders get denied all the time because of how the statute is written. If you can’t prove the stalking and you can’t prove this relationship as set forth in the statute, you can’t get a protective order. In a lot of cases there needs to be a protective order issued, but here it adds another category.”
Changes in alcohol laws
In addition to the new criminal statutes, a couple of new alcohol hit the books.
For one, a law change may be noticed by patrons of Tin Man in downtown Kokomo.
Before, oddities in state law prevented the tap room’s employees from handing beers over the bar to patrons. But, as of July 1, Tin Man employees will no longer need to walk beers around the bar to customers. Instead, beers now may be handed to customers directly over the bar.
In addition, wine and liquor now can be sold from the backs of golf cars at both public and private golf courses. Before, only beer could be sold in such a manner.