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Constitutional amendment could give judges greater leeway to deny bail

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana Senate Joint Resolution 1 would enable judges to deny bail to a defendant who poses a “substantial risk” to the public.

The measure on Thursday passed the Indiana Senate and headed to the House of Representatives.

Indiana’s constitution allows judges to deny bail on two charges: murder and treason.

State Sen. Eric Koch, a Bedford Republican, said, “There’s existing language in the current section of the Constitution which we incorporate into the amendment, which requires the proof be clear, or the presumption strong, and that’s the standard used today.”

Critics say the bill would give judges leeway to imprison someone even before they are convicted of a crime.

The Bail Project gives bail assistance to low-income defendants. Erin George, national policy director for California-based The Bail Project, said, “What the proposal does is it’s taking an ineffective and unjust money bail system and creating equally ineffective an unjust preventative detention scheme”

State lawmakers passed a bill in 2022 that limits how The Bail Project and similar organizations operate in Indiana. Some of the people it helped bail out of jail committed crimes.

George said the real problem lies within the court system. “We need to put into place changes that reform pretrial decision making. We need to put in due process protections and procedural safeguards, whether that’s in a pretrial system, that still includes some degree of money bail or not.”

Koch said if a defendant doesn’t like a judge’s decision on their bail, they have a right to appeal it. “I have a good deal of faith in Indiana’s trial court judges, they are from the community where the defendant is from and whose citizens are protected.”

State Sen. Greg Taylor, an Indianapolis Democrat, voted against Senate Joint Resolution 1. He says enshrining this measure in the Indiana Consitution means it will be difficult to change and it will adversely affect people of color.

“If a person could predict the future, on whether or not a person is going to commit a heinous crime when they are out on bail, more power to them but I leave that up to our heavenly Father,” said Taylor (D-Indianapolis).

SJR 1 would need to pass the legislature in the next session before it can appear on the ballot as early as 2026, where it would need a simple majority from voters to pass.