High Court Cuts Out Sentence Enhancement In Class Of Gun Crimes

By Jeff Neumeyer

September 19, 2012 Updated Sep 19, 2012 at 6:34 PM EDT

INDIANA, (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- In at least one category of handgun prosecutions in Indiana, offenders are now shielded from a large punishment enhancement.

The change ordered by the state Supreme Court can take up to 30 years off the criminal sentence in some gun cases.

The change applies to offenders found guilty of a violent crime such as murder, rape, robbery or battery, who also have two other prior unrelated felony convictions, and then are caught carrying a gun.

The old rules allowed a prosecutor to seek up to twenty-years for unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, and also go for another thirty-years under the habitual offender statute.

In July, the state's high court, in an Elkhart case, struck down the habitual offender “add on”, saying that represented an impermissible use of double enhancements.

Allen County's prosecutor thinks the change is misguided.

" This is a pretty heavy penalty, and frankly, isn't this exactly the kind of person that we want to give that penalty to? Isn't that the person that really is at the top of the list when it comes to community safety," said Karen Richards.

Prosecutor Richards believes the ruling only impacts cases going forward, but she concedes it's possible there could be an attempt by aggressive defense lawyers to try and re-open cases already wrapped up.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that the enhanced penalty could not be used in these cases, unless “explicit legislative direction” is provided.

Richards says she’s open to working with lawmakers to tweak the statute language, to try and make the habitual offender component applicable once again

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