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Republicans push constitutional amendment to allow judges to withhold bail for many more defendants

The inside of the Vanderburgh County Jail. A sheriff's officer is walking down a hallway.
Tim Jagielo
/
WNIN
The Indiana Constitution only allows judges to withhold bail from people charged with murder or treason.

Some Indiana Republicans want to change the state constitution to allow judges to withhold bail entirely for a lot more people.

The current constitution requires judges to offer bail except when a person is charged with murder or treason.

A proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 1, would expand that to allow bail to be withheld for any crime – as long as the person is a “substantial risk to the public.”

Courtney Curtis is the assistant executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. She said judges should have the freedom to make individual decisions about individual defendants.

“If you limit it to a certain number of crimes, then you run the risk of not including folks that you’d want to include and including some folks that you’d rather not,” Curtis said.

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Curtis said there's been a larger bail reform movement in Indiana that needs to be balanced.

Bernice Corley, Indiana Public Defender Council executive director, said the proposed expansion would widen existing disparities in the system. She said many people who can’t afford an attorney don’t have a lawyer at their initial hearing.

“Frightening to think of … there is no nexus between charge level and losing your freedom,” Corley said.

A Senate committee approved the proposed amendment Tuesday. But even if the legislature approves it this year, lawmakers will have to approve it again in 2025 or 2026 before it goes on the ballot for voters to approve.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.