Governor Eric Holcomb said he would continue to focus on Indiana’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as education issues for its 2021 legislative agenda.
Indiana lawmakers are considering billing to allow the courts to charge adults over the age of 21 with child molestation committed as teenagers.
Supporters say they are trying to fill an unintended loophole in Indiana law. They say there is no way to criminally convict those over the age of 21 for child molestation they committed as teenagers.
“There is a loophole in the law where the perpetrator is not accountable,” said David Powell, a representative for the Prosecuting Attorneys Council, at a March 9 hearing on the bill.
Opponents of the measure criticized the idea of incriminating someone as an adult for acts they had committed as a child, possibly a decade or more ago.
House Bill 1198, written by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, left the committee 8-1 on March 9 and is now moving to the Senate for consideration. Previously, it had left the house with 85 to 8 votes.
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The bill would apply to those who have committed child abuse between the ages of 14 and 18. Under the proposal, anyone, regardless of age, could be charged until the alleged victim is 31 years old.
The proposal stipulates that the indictment should be filed no later than one year after the evidence becomes known, an attempt to prohibit the state from sitting on a case until the alleged perpetrator can be convicted as an adult rather than a minor.
Representative Wendy McNamara will discuss the legislation on May 14, 2018. (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson / IndyStar)
The Supreme Court case spurs the legislature
The bill comes from a 2020 Indiana Supreme Court opinion that found that juvenile courts were unable to judge two people who were 21 years old but allegedly committed the abuse while they were under Were 18 years old. The statement also stated that the two people could not be tried in an adult criminal court because of their actions as young people.
The two 21-year-olds are said to have committed crimes against younger cousins as teenagers. The crimes would have been crimes if the two had been adults.
“If today’s result was not the legislature’s intention, then it – not us – must make the necessary legal changes,” wrote Chief Justice Loretta Rush in September.
Taylor speaks out against the bill
Still, Senate Minority Chairman Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, argued in the March 9 hearing that the bill is not the only solution to the problem.
“This is doing something that I am very concerned about, and that means that as an adult someone is being charged for something they did as a child,” Taylor said. “That should worry us all.”
Senator Greg Taylor in the Indiana Senate Chambers on November 17, 2020. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton / IndyStar)
Joel Wieneke, an attorney for the Indiana Public Defender Council, agreed with Taylor. He criticized the inclusion of 14- and 15-year-olds for not consenting to sexual activity, urged the removal of the sex offender registration requirement, and suggested that in these cases, lawmakers could give the juvenile court power to judge create meaningful process to address situations like this.
Taylor also seemed to share his own childhood experiences related to the bill, saying he or others may have done stupid or inappropriate things as children. He later told IndyStar that he was speaking more generally and not thinking about any specific incident.
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Taylor asked if Courtney Curtis, associate executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and proponent of the bill, was satisfied with the fact that an adult could be charged for an act they did as a teenager.
“I feel comfortable with that. I am not comfortable with children who experience the same level of trauma and suffering from being abused by a teen as they suffer when being molested by an adult, ”Curtis said. “I’m not comfortable with this hole in the code.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.
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