INDIANAPOLIS – Retailers are relieved that lawmakers have fixed an error in a new criminal law that would have made it tough to arrest shoplifters. Now they want a harsher penalty restored for thieves.
They contend the real problem with the new criminal code that goes into effect July 1 is a provision that drops theft from a felony to misdemeanor if the stolen goods are valued at less than $750.
“We’ve got a huge problem with that,” said Grant Monahan, head of the Indiana Retail Council, which represents thousands of store owners statewide.
On Tuesday, the General Assembly met in an unusual session to make “technical corrections” to the 400-plus page bill that overhauled crime and punishment in Indiana.
While toughening penalties for violent crimes, the new law reduces punishments for some theft and drug possession crimes by making them into misdemeanors that are rarely punished with prison time.
In passing the law during a hectic session, lawmakers inadvertently left out language that would allow police to arrest suspected shoplifters caught by store personnel while stealing something worth less than $750. Most misdemeanors require a police officer to witness the crime to make the arrest.
Legislators fixed that Tuesday and also restored the penalty for the crime of child seduction. In revising the massive bill earlier this year, lawmakers inadvertently reduced the sentence for someone convicted of intercourse with a child. During Tuesday’s session, lawmakers also clarified the amount of drugs that lead to controlled substance charges.
Fixing the shoplifting language revealed a deep divide among some lawmakers.
For years, Indiana has allowed prosecutors to charge shoplifters with a Class D felony, no matter the value of the stolen item. During debate over the new criminal code, supporters of changing that said heavy-handed prosecutors were putting people in prison for stealing a candy bar, and that prisoners were crowded with low-level thieves and drug addicts.