By Katrina Helmer
JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) – Governor Eric Holcomb signed Indiana’s victims’ rights bill recently, and local prosecutors are eagerly preparing for the changes to go into effect July 1.
“It gives some common-sense tools to the prosecutors and to citizens,” said Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull.
A significant part of the new law provides parents with another way to protect their children from predators. Mull explains that before the law, if an adult was grooming a child for sex through the use of social media, texts, or presents, there was nothing a parent could do.
“Now, there’s a legal provision that allows them to go to court and get a no contact order or protective order,” said Mull. “And if the offender violates that, then they can be arrested and charged with a crime.”
Mull hopes it will help prevent some children from falling victim to sexual crimes.
“There’s no valid reason why you as a parent should not be able to have a child molester stop contacting your child,” he said. “That’s common sense to everybody. It’s common sense, it’s long overdue, but it’s something nearly everyone would agree is appropriate.”
The new law also allows children to have a comfort toy or animal with them while testifying. It closes a loophole that potentially allowed sex between an adult and a 13- or 14-year-old child.
Mull said the law will also allow for harsher penalties for suspects charged with certain crimes, including strangulation. For a first-time offense, strangulation is a Level Six felony and a person could face up to two-and-a-half years behind bars. Now if a person is convicted of strangulation a second time, it will be considered a Level Five felony with prison time of up to six years.
“What we see with strangulation is that these are the sort of offenses that are indicative of someone who will escalate to a homicide,” said Mull.
The prosecutor said there is also a correlation between strangulation and violence against police officers. He said the option for harsher penalties could help prevent more serious crimes.
“What I believe is the victim ought to be the center of the criminal justice system, not the defendant,” said Mull. “And this bill goes a long way toward moving in that direction.”
Part of the original bill, which Mull testified in support of, was put on hold in order to be studied more. It would prohibit defense attorneys from requiring children who have been molested to give depositions before trial.
“It unnecessarily traumatizes these little children and it ought to be eliminated,” said Mull.
Recently, Mull helped reach a plea deal with Michael Begin in order to spare 20 young girls the trauma of testifying about the molestations at trial. Mull said children should not be subjected to testifying twice, before trial to the defendant’s attorney and then again at trial.
The interim study committee will review the issue of discovery depositions over the summer.
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By Katrina Helmer